Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Rolling Stones

Unlike the Beatles who, once they got going, had a steady flow of number one hits, the Rolling Stones flirted less spectacularly with the charts. But then again they did outlast the Fab Four by several decades, though many, me included, find the image of wrinkled old men playing rock and roll on stage somewhat incongruous.

The Stones, as we grew up in the Sixties, were always there. Their singles sort of grew on one till eventually you found you knew a dozen songs, all characterised by Mick Jagger’s distinctive, drawly voice, which was ideally suited to the blues-based rock that they played. Indeed, even from their earliest hits, like Little Red Rooster and Time Is On My Side (both 1964), it was clear that this was a far more seriously “American” British band than the Beatles.

In fact, reading up on Wikipedia, it emerges that Little Richard taught Jagger some of the tricks of the trade regarding showmanship during the Stones’ first tour of England. They were packaged with US stars including Ike and Tina Turner, Bo Diddley, The Everly Brothers and Richard.

Another interesting snippet concerns the key role the Beatles, by then already on their way to success, played in getting the Stones that early breakthrough. The Beatles visited the band at a show in London and helped connect them with manager Andrew Loog Oldham, while George Harrison encouraged Decca Records to sign the band, which they did in 1964. The Stones’ later popularity led to other recording companies signing rhythm and blues bands in the UK.

Unlike their provincial counterparts the Beatles, the Stones were a London-based band, their roots entrenched in the ancient capital. This is reflected in songs like the class-conscious Playing With Fire, in which the protagonist “gets her kicks in Stepney, not in Knightsbridge any more”.

The great song-writing duo of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger arose after both attended the Dartford Maypole County Primary School together. In 1960 they came reacquainted – while Richards was attending the Sidcup Art School and Jagger was a student at the London School of Economics (of all places!).

But that’s all history. We first came under the Stones’ spell in the mid-1960s, thanks to their numerous singles. I see from Wikipedia that each single had a picture sleeve, the designs for which have been of a consistently high standard throughout their long career. (Indeed, even Andy Warhol got in on the act, designing the sleeve concept for Sticky Fingers.)

So what were those early hit singles? Interestingly, their second top-20 single, I Wanna Be Your Man (November, 1963) was written by Lennon and McCartney. Otherwise, they covered songs by the great rock ’n’ roll composers of the late ’50s, such as their first minor hit, Come On, by Chuck Berry. Eventually, they started writing their own stuff, with Richards and Jagger gradually eclipsing Brian Jones, who originally founded the group as primarily a blues outfit in London in 1962.

The first Jagger/Richards success, Good Times, Bad Times, was on the B side of It’s All Over Now, which was released in the UK in June, 1964, and went to No 1.

Many of the most recognisable Stones hits from the early to mid-Sixties were in fact not written by them. A perfect example is the September 1964 release, Time Is On My Side, which was written by Norman Meade. It reached No 6.

The same applies to Little Red Rooster, released in November, 1964. It was written by Willie Dixon and went to No 1. Dixon also wrote I Just Want To Make Love To You, which was on the B side of the minor August 1964 hit, Tell Me, which was a Jagger/Richards composition.

The next Stones composition to chart was Heart Of Stone, released on December 19, 1964. Here was a classic Stones number, cementing the group’s appeal as an intelligent, rebellious outfit, their music deeply rooted in the best of hard-core rhythm and blues, and complemented by outstanding lyrics. As with the Beatles, the strength of the Stones’ songs is their use of idiomatic English. You listen to any of their compositions and it is this richness of expression, along with a wonderful creative flair, which gives each song its appeal.

Their biggest break came in February 1965, with the release of another Jagger/Richards song, The Last Time, which made it to No 1. What a bargain! Because on the B side was an equally good Stones song, Play With Fire, an absolute classic.

This was followed by the brilliant, (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, which was released in mid-1965 and went to No 1 in both the UK and the US. Notice the use of the double negative. Here were lads with above-average education and intelligence giving themselves hard-edged street cred by speaking like right cockneys.

From now on the Stones didn’t look back. And they got quite a lot of satisfaction, financially and no doubt in the other arenas they sang about as well. During the course of the next two years they had numerous hits, some of them reaching number one, with the following: Get Off Of My Cloud (October, 1965), As Tears Go By (January, 1966, the first really gentle, folk-like song by Jagger), 19th Nervous Breakdown (February, 1966), the massive No 1 hit Paint It Black (May, 1966), the two-hit single Mother’s Little Helper (which explored the use of drugs to alleviate boredom) and Lady Jane (June 1966, another of those slow, acoustic-guitar based songs which, like the Beatles were doing, offered a gentler side to the hard rock norm).

Another double A-sided single, from January 1967, consisted of Let’s Spend the Night Together and Ruby Tuesday. Now there was a bargain, which we would definitely have had in our collection.

By August 1967, in tandem with the Beatles, the Stones ventured into more experimental territory, with We Love You and B-side Dandelion a single from that time. In December that year they released In Another Land, a rare Bill Wyman composition, with The Lantern on Side B, as well as She’s A Rainbow and 2000 Light Years from Home. None of these songs topped the charts, but they were from arguably the Stones’ most adventurous concept album, Their Satanic Majesties Request, which was released at the same time.

Just a little South African context here. When the album was released in this country, the local distributors decided that the apartheid regime would be offended by the title, and the wizardy cover, so both were ditched. We got the album under the innocuous title, The Stones Are Rolling. The substitute cover was great, however, and included figures from classical paintings, flowers and a maze, against a geographic map, with some psychedelic images of a landscape, waves, flames and clouds on the back. This, like Sgt Pepper’s, was an album I listened to over and over again in the late Sixties. Indeed, I still rank it as one of the greatest progressive rock albums of all time. It is rich with overlayed sounds and textures, along with just the right amount of orchestration. The use of voices – people speaking in pukka English accents at a party, as in On With The Show, or loudly at a market on other occasions - gives the album a powerful sense of location in English society.

Wikipedia says the album was not well-received, “being often viewed as a pretentious, poorly conceived attempt to outdo The Beatles and Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (released June 1967)”. The album reached No 3 in the UK and 2 in the US, easily going gold. Jagger and Richards were clearly not at home as part of the “flower power”, hippie, scene, and the next year the band returned to its hard-driving blues roots. But, as the Wikipedia writer observes: “In retrospect this is a unique and creative contribution by the Stones. It reflects the experimental proclivities and eclectic musical interests of Brian Jones and session arranger and future Led Zeppelin member John Paul Jones. It indicates a free-wheeling direction that the group could have taken but rejected for a safer blues- and country-inspired sound.”

It was about this time, 1966 or ’67, that I moved into the world of the big boys. We had a small, three-bedroomed house. I shared a tiny room with my younger brother Don and sister Jen for the first decade of my life. Then, as the middle child, around 1966, I graduated to my elder brothers’ shared room. So there were three of us in one dormitory-like room, with three beds in a row. That room was the incubator for much mischief, but also, I believe, for my induction into a world of music I will forever cherish.

As I have said on an earlier posting, Ian was three-and-a-half years older than me, while AB (Alistair) was 16 months older. By the time I moved into their room, Ian would have been entering high school. And it was through his mates, I believe, that we became aware of the greater musical world beyond the shallow parameters of the hit parade. This was particularly so once he moved to the Belgravia Art School, which became a haven for arty, musical types not keen on doing a conventional academic matric.

But in early high school Ian had a friend, Vaughn Corlett, whose dad was into electronics. And Vaughn was also something of a fundi when it came to making hi-fi sets. We could never afford a larny hi-fi like we used to ogle in the newspaper adverts. You know the set up, with turntable, amplifier, massive speakers, and so on, all arranged in a posh-looking cabinet. But fortunately Vaughn, who also had a set of drums in his outside room, which he would hammer to our great joy when we visited, helped solve our problem. I can’t recall what it cost, but he actually made us an amplifier. It was a valve amp, and worked like a charm. The turntable I can’t recall, but the amp was a largish wooden box with a black perspex front. It had a simple metal on-off switch and a row of silver knobs for volume, bass and treble. It also used to get pretty hot after being played for a while. But it was this baby that brought us our music. We all did a bit of woodwork at school, so it was no hassle for us to knock up some rather nice speaker cabinets from veneer-covered chipboard. Ian cleverly included two little shelves on the side of each to contain about 20 records per speaker. And when Alistair got into the more senior years of high school, he made a hi-fi cabinet, just like we’d seen in the ads, only better, from blackwood. It occupied pride of place against one wall – which, like the others throughout the house, was painted, but unplastered brick. This was evidently all the rage at the time. On the wall of our bedroom hung the Beatles poster from the White Album along with the faces of the four and various other bright pop posters. Also up there were editorials written by Donald Woods, editor of the local Daily Dispatch, attacking apartheid. One replied to a National Party cabinet minister who had asked rhetorically who would rejoice if the Nats lost power. He said it would be the communist capitals like Moscow, Peking (in those days) and Havana. Woods responded by posing the same question: Who will rejoice? And replied by listing the capital of virtually every major country. In conclusion, he wrote that the Minister had asked who would rejoice if the Nats were swept from power. The answer, he said, was simple: “The whole bloody world will rejoice.”

We loved it. How great to have a newspaper editor courageous enough to stand up against the fascist, racist apartheid regime.

Anyway, the Stones formed part of a panoply of great sounds which dominated our teenage years. And listening to their music now, especially after they abandoned their psychedelic experiment, it becomes clear that they were, are, a remarkably motivated and inspired group of musicians, who often seemed far more concerned with having a good time and making music that they liked, than with what the critics, or even the paying public, liked. They were just lucky that there were still masses of people out there who had developed a distinct taste for the music they were producing. And of course it got better and better as the decade wore on.

The Stones’ next album was another classic, but back in the more primal R&B genre that Jagger preferred. Released in 1968, Beggars Banquet was directed by Jimmy Miller, who Jagger had hired to give the band more direction. Miller had produced the Spencer Davis Group and Traffic, and would remain with the Stones for the highly productive years until 1973.

A track off the album, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, became a major hit prior to the release of the album itself, which was delayed due to a controversy over its cover design – a graffiti-covered lavatory. This was the last album on which Jones did substantial work, contributing slide guitar on No Expectations, harmonica on several tracks, and sitar and tambura on Street Fighting Man.

In 2003, the album was ranked number 57 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Interestingly, it must have been one of the first to be released on CD, with Wikepedia noting that “in 1984, the original cover art was released with the initial CD remastering of Beggars Banquet”.

Let It Bleed, released in 1969, was one of the Stones’ greatest albums, but, while I recall many of the songs, I was most surprised to see the album cover on the Net. I just could not place it – and it looked so unStones-like. It shows a record on a turntable, with a nice large cake resting on the spindle above it – much like we were able to stack up records on our old gramophone’s spindle, to enable you to automatically play several records one after the other. The cake, interestingly, was apparently made by Delia Smith, who became renowned as a writer of cookery books. The band members are shown as little figures on top of the cake. It seems possible that the album had a different cover in SA, or I just completely missed out on seeing it.

What is clear is that this was a transition album, with Brian Jones (on his way out) appearing on just two tracks, and the same with his replacement, Mick Taylor, yet another protégé of John Mayall, about whom more later.

Let It Bleed features two songs which have become major milestones in the Stones’ list of hits: You Can’t Always Get What You Want and Midnight Rambler. The song Country Honk was evidently the genesis for the hugely successful Honky Tonk Woman (1969), the band’s last No 1 UK hit.

Let It Bleed reached No 1 in the UK (temporarily ousting The Beatles’ Abbey Road from the top slot) and No 3 in the US, where it eventually went double platinum. It is widely ranked as one of the group’s top four albums, along with Beggars Banquet, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street. In 2003, it was listed as number 32 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Sticky Fingers has to be the only album cover that included an actual zipper that could open and close. Designed by Andy Warhol, it has a zipper on a monochrome photograph of a pair of jeans. You open it to find a pair of men’s underpants. That was the one big bummer for us teenagers. Far better, Andy, to have made this a female figure. But then it wouldn’t have had the same shock appeal, would it? Especially not since the jeans, seen from the front, contain the outline of a rather large male organ.

The record, released in April 1971, contained several brilliant compositions. It was also the first on their own label, after having been contracted since 1963 with Decca Records. The single Brown Sugar reached No 1 and 2 in the US and UK respectively, while the album topped the charts worldwide. In 2003, Sticky Fingers was listed as No 63 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums. Just why this is so, is not difficult to imagine when you consider what great songs are on the album. It kicks off with the drug-referencing Brown Sugar, followed by Sway, Wild Horses, You Gotta Move, Bitch, I Got The Blues, the all-time classic Sister Morphine (which features Ry Cooder on guitar and is a Marianne Faithfull song about her relationship with heroin), Dead Flowers and Moonlight Mile. While many titles are unfamiliar, you only have to listen to it for them all to come flooding back.

The last Stones album which really impacted on me was the double disc, Exile on Main Street, which was released in 1972. I would have been in Standard 8, or Grade 10. I remember the cover well, despite all the dagga going down at the time. It was a collage of black and white images, including one of an African man with a bunch of balls in his widely stretched mouth.

As Wikipedia notes, “although initially greeted with lukewarm reviews, it is now widely considered the band’s finest work and one of the defining masterpieces of the rock era”.
The album did not have as many instantly recognisable songs as its predecessors, but for pure listening pleasure, there were few to beat it in my mind. Release of the album was preceded by the Top 10 hit Tumbling Dice. Exile On Main St became a worldwide No 1 hit, its release coinciding with the Stones’ successful 1972 American Tour, their first in three years.

Other memorable songs on the album include Rocks Off, Rip This Joint, Tumbling Dice, Sweet Virginia, Sweet Black Angel and Shine a Light.

Look, I’m not saying the Stones didn’t do further great work after these albums, but the point is that I moved on to other stuff, and they slipped out of my life. Obviously the albums listed above lived on, an on. The band rose into my personal reckoning briefly in 1980, with the release of two singles which seemed to do quite well, Emotional Rescue and She’s So Cold.

I have not, however, been interested in seeing them live. There is something just a little sad about sixty-somethings acting like twenty-somethings, even if their music remains as good as it was. The point is that the highlight of any such concert has to be an exercise in nostalgia, as they rehash their classics from the late Sixties and early Seventies. I prefer to hear those songs in the original, when the Stones were the biggest thing in the world.

A look at the Wikipedia piece on the Stones reveals some interesting snippets. For instance, it emerges that the band was named after a song by Chicago blues artist Muddy Waters. Indeed, Chicago blues was the direction Brian Jones wanted the band to take – until he was overruled by Jagger and Richards.

What I haven’t mentioned is Get Yer Ya-Yas Out! Frankly, while the title of this 1970 live album is obviously very familiar, I don’t recall listening to it. It was, of course, the product of the band’s 1969 US tour, which included the infamous Altamont Free Concert, at the then-disused Altamont Speedway outside San Francisco. The show ended in disaster. The Stones had hired the Hell’s Angels to provide security (as the Grateful Dead also did) and, what with the over-consumption of free beer by the Angels and the presence of 300 000 mellow peaceniks, an ongoing confrontation culminated in the death of a young black fan, Meredith Hunter, who was stabbed and beaten to death after drawing a gun while being manhandled by the Angels. The concert – and the murder – were documented in Albert and David Maysles’ film Gimme Shelter. But the 1969 US tour saw the Stones at their peak, with Taylor’s fluent blues playing backed by a superb rhythm section of Charlie Watts on drums and Bill Wyman on bass. Get Yer Ya-Yas Out!, a compilation from the tour, reached No 1 in both the UK and the US in 1970.

The Stones became big-time socialites, not socialists, in the 1980s and 1990s, with Jagger especially swanning about in the celebrity spotlight. Their concerts became increasingly outlandish affairs, full of gimmicks and massively expensive stage sets. Certainly, the masses turned out in their thousands to see the spectacle – and no doubt to brag one day that they “saw the Stones live”. Far better to have used that money to buy half a dozen great stones CDs and really experience the band.

One song that does stand out is 1974’s It’s Only Rock ’n Roll (“but I like it, like it, yes I do”), which reached No 2 in the UK and No 1 in the States. It was in 1974, too, that guitarist Mick Taylor shocked the world by quitting the band. Taylor had contributed much of the song-writing while Richards was battling with drug problems, but this was never acknowledged on the album covers. He was replaced by Ron Wood, the guitarist with The Faces, whose singer Rod Stewart had recently gone solo.

Certain songs from the early1980s still resonate, like Start Me Up, from the album, Tattoo You, which also reached No 2 in the UK and No 1 in the US in 1981. Interestingly, Start Me Up was used by Microsoft to launch their Windows 95 operating system. According to Wikipedia, some critics compared how the group, “who epitomised the way that rock ’n’ roll commercialised earlier rhythm and blues by delivering it to a global audience, provided the soundtrack for the corporation which did the same with software”. Then in 1999, the Stones song She’s A Rainbow was used by Apple Computer to advertise the introduction of its multicoloured iMacs.

Which only goes to prove my point that the music by legendary groups like the Stones, which started out in the Sixties and Seventies, is being borrowed repeatedly by the present generation to fill a gap in an arena where, clearly, there is a dearth of really exciting new talent.
The above, of course, is a very truncated synopsis of the band’s output. I had hoped to get away with that, but after redoing the Beatles, I discovered that one needs to really get into the story if you’re to do justice to it.

Wikipedia, for instance, are masters at understatement. They say the Stones are a “globally popular English musical group”. Formed by Jones in London in 1962, the band was “eventually led by the songwriting partnership of singer Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Jones”. They began playing American blues, R&B and rock and roll, but later genres included country, psychedelia, reggae and disco. Their image of “unkempt and surly youth” is still emulated by many musicians, says Wikipedia. And they might add that the Stones themselves maintain that image. At the time of writing they had released 29 albums of original work and compilations and had 37 top-10 singles. In 1989 they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2004, Rolling Stone magazine rated then No 4 in its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, says Wikipedia.

As noted earlier, Jagger and Richards became reacquainted in 1960 while busy with post-graduate studies. They formed a band, Little Boy Blue and the Blues Boys, together with Dick Taylor. At the same time multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones and pianist Ian Stewart were also making music in London. They played with the Ramrods and Blues Inc, which often used guest performers, including Jagger and Richards and future Stones drummer Charlie Watts, says Wikipedia. The band changed its name to The Rolling Stones after that Muddy Waters song, and included Jagger, Richards, Stewart, Jones and drummer Tony Chapman. There seems to be some confusion as to precisely who was originally involved, with Mick Avory (later of The Kinks) having been involved at one point, along with multi-instrumentalist Trevor Whittaker. But what is certain, according to Wikipedia, is that the group played its first gig at the Marquee club in London billed as The Rolling Stones on July 12, 1962. And the line-up was Jagger, Richards, Jones, Stewart on piano, Dick Taylor on bass and Tony Chapman (or possibly Mick Avory) on drums.

Wikipedia confirms that Jones aimed to play “primarily Chicago blues”, but Jagger and Richards “brought in the rock and roll of Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley”. Taylor wasn’t happy and quit the band, to be replaced by Bill Wyman on bass in December 1962. Watts took over the drumsticks in January 1963. With the Stones a big draw on the London rhythm and blues scene, Wyman said the Stones’ set at the time included many long jams meant to showcase musicianship, says Wikipedia. And then their break came when the Beatles helped find them a manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, and recording company, Decca Records, as noted above.

But poor Ian Stewart on piano had to go. Oldham considered him “not teen idol material”. Despite this, Wikipedia says Stewart would record and perform with the Stones until his death. And he ordered Keith Richards to drop the “s” from his surname, to match that of British pop star Cliff Richard.

It was now that they started touring the UK and Europe, and on their first tour, as noted earlier, they learnt a few tricks of the trade from Little Richard. That first tour also saw them become “more of a pop band, resulting in a drastic reduction of how many blues songs they played”, says Wikipedia.

I’ll return to the key singles and LPs later, but it is interesting to note how the Stones became increasingly “American” in contrast to the Beatles who remained quintessentially English. For instance, after the release of their second album, Wikipedia says they were “constantly touring, playing to crowds of screaming teenagers”. And, while in the US, they began “a period of recording almost exclusively in America at both Chess Studios in Chicago … and RCA Studios in Los Angeles”. It quotes Richards as saying that in England “no one could get a really good funky American sound, which is what WE were after”. They first toured the US in June 1964, where they rubbed up both Dean Martin and Ed Sulllivan, on whose shows they appeared, the wrong way.

It was in 1965 that the Stones’ fame started to soar, with the release of (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, a Jagger-Richards composition. It was included on the US version of 1965’s Out of Our Heads album, which contained seven original songs. Suddenly, they were up there with the Beatles and the Dave Clark Five. Satisfaction, says Wikipedia, became the first of many No 1 hits for the Stones. And, learning quickly, their next album, Aftermath (1966) consisted entirely of Jagger-Richards compositions, and it reached No 1 in the UK and No 2 in the US. Incredibly, it included a nearly 12-minute jam, Going Home, the first on a chart-topping rock and roll album.

In 1967, says Wikipedia, Jagger and Richards were convicted on drug-related charges, but on appeal Richards’s conviction was quashed and Jagger’s prison sentence reduced to a suspended sentence. Just before their trial, in May 1967, Jones was arrested for possession of cannabis, cocaine and methamphetamine, but he escaped with a fine and probation, and was told to seek professional help. I’m sure we’ll meet this song again later, but Wikipedia says that officially as a thank you to their loyal fans during the trial, they released a new single, We Love You. But many saw it as a “barbed attack on their perceived persecutors: the News of the World, the Metroplitan Police and the British judiciary”. Richards had been held at Wormwood Scrubs prison overnight, and the song opens with the sounds of footsteps and a cell door banging shut, rumoured, says Wikipedia, to have been secretly recorded at this prison, which just happens to be adjacent to Hammersmith Hospital, where my eldest son was born in 1991. Even then, the Stones were stirring the pot, with a promotional film for the song comparing their “persecution and trial to that of Oscar Wilde”, says Wikipedia.

But wait. This thing is threatening to become very cumbersome. Before getting onto their seminal albums and the stories relating to them. Let’s stop and look at what has occurred this far. The Stones were, as I said earlier, initially a singles-based band. Their early albums were mainly covers of other rhythm and blues songs. But it was the singles that attracted us first, so let’s check them out.

I have been unable to ascertain exactly when the single, Under The Boardwalk, was released, but it was one of the first Stones songs to really attract my attention. I learn from Wikipedia that it was written by Arther Resnick and Kenny Young of The Drifters. But it was the Stones version that bowled us over. Unfortunately, my vinyl copy of Hot Rocks does not give the dates that each song was released, which would be a great help. And even the Wikipedia chapter on this compilation album, from 1964 to 1971, is no help because it only lists the tracks on the 2002 CD – and would you believe it, Under The Boardwalk was given the boot, along with Tell Me and Little Red Rooster. Anyway, Under The Boardwalk, for me, is a sentimental Stones favourite from my youth. Having just given the song a listen, I am suitably impressed. Guestimating that this was from the mid-1960s, I think it fair to say the Stones were right up there with the Beatles in terms of the sort of aesthetic they were attempting to achieve. Notable here is the use of acoustic guitar as a lead instrument. The song starts with that distinctive bass riff, which evokes the sort of calypso-based, US west coast sound that the Beach Boys would make their own. Indeed, some of the wonderful harmonies heard here have a decided Beach Boys sound to them. Jagger’s voice is superb, while that acoustic guitar solo cements this song’s status as a lot more than just a popular song. But for me it was all about the youth I had, growing up at the seaside and spending every hot day on the sand and in the surf. We had no boardwalk at Bonza Bay at the time, but it was the general sense of sea and sand and surf that the song evoked, and I could fully relate to it. “When the sun beats down / And burns the tar up on the roof / And your shoes get so hot / You wish your tired feet were fireproof / Under the boardwalk / Down by the sea / On a blanket with my baby / Is where I'll be.” Then that famous chorus: “(Under the boardwalk) Out of the sun / (Under the boardwalk) We’ll be having some fun / (Under the boardwalk) People walking above / (Under the boardwalk) We’ll be falling in love / (Under the boardwalk, boardwalk).” Only now do I register the words I was hearing, but not listening to, way back then. “From the sand you’ll hear / The happy sound of a carousel / You can almost taste the hot dogs / And french fries they sell / Under the boardwalk / Down by the sea, yeah / On a blanket with my baby / Is where I’ll be.” The principal verse and chorus are repeated, along with that wonderful acoustic lead solo as a classic early Stones song concludes.

Having mentioned the Stones single, I Wanna Be Your Man, from November 1963, and written by Lennon and McCartney, it is interesting to note that lyrically it just doesn’t look like a Stones song. I remember it well, and even now, thinking about it, it just smacks of the Beatles. “I wanna be your lover, baby, / I wanna be your man / I wanna be your lover, baby / I wanna be your man / Tell me that you love me, baby / Tell me you understand / Tell me that you love me, baby / Tell me you understand / I wanna be your man / I wanna be your man / I wanna be your man / I wanna be your man.”

The Rolling Stones

But this is futile. Surely many, if not all the singles, also featured on their albums. And I have a couple of the earliest, gleaned from that convenient second-hand shop in Port Elizabeth, mentioned earlier. What a luck it was to spot a thing just titled Rolling Stones. But was it their debut album, which was released on April 16, 1964? Wikipedia classes its genre as rock, although it must surely be more rock and roll and R&B than rock in the sense that it was to evolve during the decade. Andrew Loog Oldham was the producer and was, as I discovered on Wikipedia, like George Martin, the Beatles’ producer, also a musician himself, who contributed to the Stones’ albums.

The US edition of the album, which had a slightly different track list, was released a month after the UK release, under the title England’s Newest Hit Makers, which seems a trifle weak, but then again I suppose it was all about marketing. As with so many of these bands just starting out, the recording studios didn’t “waste” too much time on them. Wikipedia tells us the album was recorded at Regent Sound Studios in London over just five days in January and February, 1964. I was nearly eight as it happened. They add that producers Oldham and Eric Easton were also the Stones’ managers at the time. The Rolling Stones was released in the UK by Decca Records, and its US counterpart by London Records, with Not Fade Away (the a-side of their third UK single) replacing Mona (I Need You Baby). And the UK version contained just one Jagger-Richards composition, the classic early hit, Tell Me (You’re Coming Back). Interestingly, one Nanker Phelge wrote two songs for the album, both Stones originals. These were Now I’ve Got A Witness and Little By Little, co-written with Phil Spector. Phelge, Wikipedia tells us, was in fact a pseudonym the band used for group compositions from 1963 to 1965. The rest, says Wikipedia, reflect the band’s “love for authentic R&B material”.

The album cover photo, taken by the legendary David Bailey, is not the one on the album I have, and a quick check of the tracklist shows it is in fact Rolling Stones 2, so I’ll return to it later. The debut album shows the guys standing against a dark backdrop, facing to the viewer’s right, but looking at the camera. It is a classy photo and they are well dressed, with their long hair neatly combed. Jagger on the right, and Jones on the left, are closest to the camera, with the rest slightly behind. And, in a first for the industry, their debut album had no title or identifying information, apart from the picture and the Decca logo. Wikipedia says it was Oldham’s idea. It shot to No 1 in the UK and stayed there for 12 weeks. It’s US version reached No 11, but did go gold. But its success is hardly surprising considering that several hit singles paved the way forward. Songs like Route 66, a Bobby Troup composition, and one of those Stones songs which became part of my psyche as I grew up in the 1960s. It’s not on Hot Rocks and I doubt I still have the single, but the lyrics will bring it back. “Well if you ever plan to motor west / Just take my way that’s the highway that’s the best / Get your kicks on Route 66.” The song is a celebration of the US. “Well it winds from Chicago to L.A. / More than 2000 miles all the way / Get your kicks on Route 66.” It bisects the heartland. “Well goes from St. Louie down to Missouri / Oklahoma city, looks oh so pretty / You’ll see Amarillo and Gallup, New Mexico / Flagstaff, Arizona don’t forget Winona / Kingman, Barstow, San Bernadino…” And so on. I’d love to hear it again…

This was an early rock and roll/R&B album, and the songs reflect that. I Just Want To Make Love To You was by Willie Dixon, and it was another Stones gem. “I don’t want you be no slave / I don’t want you work all day / I don’t want ’cause I’m sad and blue / I just want to make love to you, baby / Love to you, baby / Love to you, baby / Love to you.” The sentiments were clear enough. The Stones were not about sentimental stuff. If a man wants to make love to a beautiful girl, he tells her straight out. Of course if she also does all the other things mentioned in the song that he doesn’t want her to do, well so much the better.

Next up on the album were Honest I Do by Jimmy Reed and Mona (I Need You Baby) by Ellas McDaniel. Now I’ve Got a Witness (Like Uncle Phil and Uncle Gene) was one of those Nanker Phelge compositions and, says Wikipedia, refers to Phil Spector and Gene Pitney, who contributed to the sessions. Next is Little by Little, by Nanker Phelge and Phil Spector, I’m a King Bee by James Moore, Chuck Berry’s famous Carol and then the big hit, Tell Me (You’re Coming Back), the first Mick Jagger/Keith Richards composition on a Stones album. It runs to 4:05 minutes and a fresh listen on Hot Rocks reveals a band already creating its distinctive sound, much as the first Beatles albums were instantly recognisable. Here some bold guitar notes are played before the song slows for those opening lines, with Jagger’s voice at its richest. “I, want you back again / I, want your love again / I know you find it hard to reason with me / But this time it’s different, darling you’ll see.” By this time, the song has become more edgy, and the chorus sees the others harmonising superbly. “You gotta tell me you’re coming back to me / You gotta tell me you’re coming back to me / You gotta tell me you’re coming back to me / You gotta tell me you’re coming back to me.” Repetition in this case works perfectly, given the musical context. Because after the energy thus expended, the song again slows, for the next verse. “You, said we’re through before / You, walked out on me before / I tried to tell you, but you didn’t want to know / This time you’re different and determined to go.” After that frenetic chorus, the final verse: “I, wait as the days go by / I, long for the nights to go by / I hear the knock on my door that never comes / I hear the telephone that hasn’t rung.” Then, in the best blues tradition, he bemoans his lot and wonders why this woman isn’t simply there for him, as the chorus is repeated. There are lovely snatches of acoustic guitar throughout, with a final few electric lead guitar flourishes, albeit in strict R&B mode.

The album concludes with three more covers: Can I Get A Witness by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland, You Can Make It If You Try by Ted Jarrett and Walking The Dog by Rufus Thomas, all of which I’d dearly love to hear.

As far as the personnel on this debut album is concerned, Jagger contributed lead vocals, harmonic and percussion, Richards vocals and guitar, Jones guitar, harmonica, vocals and percussion, Watts drums and percussion, Wyman bass guitar and vocals and then Ian Stewart, the ditched Stone, played organ and piano, while Pitney played piano and Spector maracas on Little By Little. While only on the US version, Not Fade Away reached No 3 in the UK singles charts in 1964 and No 48 in the US, where Tell Me reached No 24. The latter was certainly very big in SA at the time.

The Rolling Stones No 2

The old Stones album I picked up at that shop has a cover showing the lads living up to their “rebel youth” tag, especially Jagger on the left, wearing a sweatshirt and holding a fag. He looks like he’s just woken up, with somewhat disheveled, fairly long hair. The rest, shown outside a rather drab white building, are more respectably dressed. But the message is: we are not the Beatles. We aren’t here to please your parents. But, while the songs basically correspond, it is not the same as the cover of either the UK or the US versions of The Rolling Stones No 2. Here, the faces are shown fairly close up, and wide-eyed, against a blue backdrop. Again they are smartly dressed, although the hair remains good and long.

Again, Wikipedia classifies the album, released by Decca on January 15, 1965, as rock. Following the “massive success” of the debut album, Wikipedia says the band again stuck largely to R&B covers, though it does contain three Jagger/Richards compositions. Oldham has taken over full production duties on an album recorded both in the UK and the US. Again, the Stones struck gold, with the album spending 10 weeks at No 1 in the UK in 1965. And it seems both these debut UK albums were never released on CD, so who knows, this local SA pressing might be something of a rarity.

There is a bit of confusion regarding the tracklist, because the US albums included songs and were released at different times to those in the UK. Under The Boardwalk, for instance, was on 12 X 5, which was released in the US in October, 1964, and almost certainly was a hit single in SA around that time.

Having just given The Rolling Stones No 2 a listen, probably my first since this is an album I picked up at the second-hand store, I was more than impressed by just how good the band was, even then.

And if some of the song titles seemed unfamiliar, as soon as I heard them most came flying back – so I would have heard them way back when, somewhere or other. Take the opening track, Everybody Needs Somebody To Love, written by three guys I’ve never heard of. The point is that the chorus was instantly familiar: “I need you, you, you …” It is a jaunty R&B song, with Jagger speaking the opening lines against a somewhat tinny-sounding musical accompaniment dominated by slashing cymbals. Jagger’s bluesy vocals are powerful, with an apparent attempt to mimic the great African American R&B artists, and there is even a brief lead guitar break.

The second track, Down Home Girl, is another excellent cover. “Lord I swear, the perfume you wear …” Again Jagger’s slow, bluesy, earthy vocals ignite the song with a sensuality that must have had the young female fans drooling. The combination of harmonica and a thin electronic lead guitar must surely have influenced one Bob Dylan at about this time.

Next up is a version of Chuck Berry’s You Can’t Catch Me, which is one of the first real Stones classics. Indeed, I think even Chuck must have envied the lads their handling of this song, with the lead breaks if anything being superior to what he himself did. But ever considered what precisely was being sung? I must confess I always wondered about the last word in the first line. Was it automobile or what? “I bought a brand new airmobile / It was custom made / It was a Flight DeVille / With an outboard motor / And some hideaway wings / Push in on the button and you can hear her sing / Now you can’t catch me / No, baby, you can’t catch me / ’Cause if you get too close /You know I’m gone like a cool breeze.” Jagger’s vocals are again pivotal, while that rough rock and roll sound is ably supplied by a chirpy rhythm and those occasional progressive-sounding lead breaks. Again, Dylan would have surely been impressed. A couple of lines in the second verse stand out, because the Beatles borrowed lavishly from them on Come Together. “New Jersey Turnpike in the wee wee hours / I was rolling slowly ’cause of drizzlin’ showers / Up come a flattop he was movin’ up with me / Then come sailin’ goodbye / In a little old souped up mini / I put my foot in my tank and I begin to roll / Moanin’ sirens, was the state patrol / So I get out my wings and then I blew my horn / Bye-bye New Jersey I become airborne.” Aha! So that’s why it’s an airmobile. He drives so fast it literally takes off. But what about those Beatles lines: “Here come old flattop, he come groovin’ up slowly…” And so another great song continues, establishing the Stones as one of the world’s greatest groups, and Berry as one of rock’s pioneer songwriters.

Now no self-respecting Stones fan would think that the next track, Time Is On My Side, is anything but a dyed-in-the-wool Stones original. Except that it was written by one Norman Meade. Those sharp, distinctive guitar notes are as emblematic of the Stones as Jagger’s voice. And it is with those that the song opens, before it becomes a slow blues. The sound is fuller here, with Richards giving the lead guitar full vent in a lively solo midway. But, hey, this song was one of the great early Stones hit singles and is implanted in my memory and that of millions of others, no doubt. “T-i-i-ime is on my side, yes it is / Ti-i-i-ime is on my side, yes it is.” I stretched out that first “time”, because that is how it sounds each time it is sung. The song picks up pace in the opening verse. “Now you always say / That you want to be free / But you’ll come running back (said you would baby) / You’ll come running back (I said so many times before) / You’ll come running back to me…” Then, as the lead guitar starts to weep and wail, the chorus takes us into verse two: “You’re searching for good times / But just wait and see / You’ll come running back (I won’t have to worry no more) / You’ll come running back (spend the rest of my life with you, baby) / You’ll come running back to me.” Now the lead guitar is really ripping. There’s some adroit organ-grinding too, and the vocal harmonies by the others shouldn’t be overlooked either. Jagger kicks into a sort of rapping mode about here. “Go ahead, go ahead and light up the town / And baby, do everything your heart desires / Remember, I’ll always be around / And I know, I know / Like I told you so many times before / You’re gonna come back, baby / ’Cause I know / You’re gonna come back knocking / Yeah, knocking right on my door / Yes, yes!” Jagger really, it seems, got into the soul of the African American sound. After the short chorus, the last verse reads: “Cause I got the real love / The kind that you need / You’ll come running back (said you would, baby) / You’ll come running back (I always said you would) / You’ll come running back, to me.” Then the opening lines are repeated as the song fades. “Yes time, time, time is on my side, yes it is / Time, time, time is on my side, yes it is …”

The first Jagger/Richards composition on the album, What A Shame, is a right cracker. “What a shame / Nothing seems to be going right / What a shame / Nothing seems to be going right / It seems easy to me that everything can be alright.” A slow blues, this is characterised by some incredible lead guitar, possibly with a bottle neck, and blues harmonica. “What a shame / They always wanna start a fight / What a shame / They always wanna start a fight / Well it scares me so / I could sleep in the shelter all night / Well alright.” It ends on a most sombre, if somewhat paradoxical, note. “What a shame / You all heard what I said / What a shame / Y’all heard what I said / You might wake up in the morning / And find your poor self dead.”

Now the UK version does not appear to contain Little Red Rooster, a Willie Dixon composition, which is on the SA version, and it too is one of those early Stones songs which we all knew and loved. It is, of course, remarkable for featuring some of the finest slide or bottle neck guitar on a hit single. And near the end is some beautiful blues harmonica. But again it is Jagger’s vocals which provide the guts of the song. With that slide guitar crowing crazily, he lays it on us. “I am the little red rooster / Too lazy to crow for day / I am the little red rooster / Too lazy to crow for day / Keep everything in the farm yard upset in every way.” I’d not seen the lyrics before, and always heard that line as “too lazy to crow today”, not “for day”. The next verse goes: “The dogs begin to bark and hounds begin to howl / Dogs begin to bark and hounds begin to howl / Watch out strange cat people / Little red rooster’s on the prowl.” It is a lovely mixing of domestic animal images. “If you see my little red rooster / Please drive him home / If you see my little red rooster / Please drive him home / Ain’t had no peace in the farm yard / Since my little red rooster’s been gone.”

My version’s first side ends thus, with Side 2 kicking off with the Don Raye song, Down The Road Apiece, a quickfire rock and roll song reminiscent of Johnny Be Goode. With some superb boogie piano and lead guitar, this would also have gladdened Chuck Berry’s heart. Indeed, looking at this tracklist again, I wonder if the version I have here isn’t The Rolling Stones, Now! Wikipedia says No 2 actually uses the cover shot for the second US-released album, 12 X 5, and that the tracklisting for No 2 would “largely be emulated on the upcoming US release of The Rolling Stones, Now!”. So finally it makes sense. Yet my version was simply “Rolling Stones”. Well the second song on this album is Not Fade Away, which interestingly has prominent acoustic guitar, quickly strummed. The lead guitar is raw and rough, with the harmonica blazing away beside Jagger’s ever-powerful vocals. One website says it was written by Norman Petty and Buddy Holly, another by Petty and Hardin. Whatever the case, it was another great early Stones song. “I'm gonna tell you how it’s gonna be / You’re gonna give your love to me / I’m gonna love you night and day / Well love is love and not fade away / Well love is love and not fade away.” It all just lent itself to the full Stones treatment. Jagger’s vocals, and the wonderfully creative talents of the other band members ensured that there were no flops on these early Stones albums, unlike with even the Beatles. “My love bigger than a Cadillac / I try to show it and you’re drivin’ me back / Your love for me has got to be real / For you to know just how I feel / Love is real and not fade away / Well love is real and not fade away.”

One has to wonder if the next song on Now!, as I have renamed our no-name-brand Stones album, didn’t plant a seed in the Jagger/Richards brain. I Can’t Be Satisfied, by McKinley Morganfield, has a familiar ring, does it not. The slide guitar work on this is superb, as are Jagger’s vocals. If ever a song showed they had paid their blues dues, it is this one. “Well I’m going away to live / Won’t be back no more / Going back down south, child / Lord now don’t you worry ma.” These lyrics, even now as I write, a day or so after listening to the album, are unfamiliar to me. Yet as soon as you play the song, it sounds like you’ve known and loved it all your life. “Woman I’m trouble / Trouble and all worried mind / Well I just can’t be satisfied / Just can’t keep on crying.” And so it continues for another half a dozen verses of pure Stones magic.

And, man, there’s no escaping the blues here, because Naomi Neville’s Pain In My Heart is a melancholy slow blues which features some poignant piano and even a bit of sax. The band is as tight as a bow. And again, even if I hadn’t heard this before, it seemed like I had.

And so to the next Jagger/Richards track, Off The Hook which, I see, was also only available on the US version, The Rolling Stones, Now! This starts out sounding quite corny, until you get into the mood of what they’re trying to do. Then you realise the Stones were about creating a certain timbre, or musical texture, and those simple lyrics were the vehicle for a masterpiece of collaboration between the Jagger voice and some superb musicianship. This isn’t, as I thought, about being let off the hook. Instead it is about a telephone that won’t ring. “Sittin’ in my bedroom late last night / Got into bed and turned out the light / Decided to call my baby on the telephone / All I got was an engaged tone / It’s off the hook / It’s off the hook / It’s off the hook / It’s off the hook / It’s off the hook /.” The jaunty nature of the song belies the seriousness with which the musicians approached it, rendering a simple ditty into a class act, a tight, compact song with injections of sprightly lead guitar and a rich overlay of percussion. “Talkin’ so long she upset my mind / Why is she talkin’ such a long time? / Maybe she’s sleeping, maybe she’s ill / Phone’s disconnected, unpaid bill / It’s off the hook / It’s off the hook …” Finally he gives up. “Don’t wanna see her, afraid of what I’d find / Tired of letting her upset me all the time / Back into bed started reading my books / Take my phone right off of the hook / It’s off the hook / It’s off the hook …”

And then the album ends with that Beatles song, I Wanna Be Your Man. This is done at break-neck speed, with acoustic guitar and lead electric guitar setting the pace from the outset. The bass guitar sings along at an almost comical speed. “I wanna be your lover, baby, / I wanna be your man / I wanna be your lover, baby / I wanna be your man / Tell me that you love me, baby / Tell me you understand / Tell me that you love me, baby / Tell me you understand.” It is typical Lennon/McCartney simplicity, with the song changing key here for the chorus. “I wanna be your man / I wanna be your man …” The next verse is equally simple, and catchy. “Tell me that you love me, baby / Tell me you understand / Tell me that you love me, baby / Tell me you understand.” Then back to the “I wanna be your lover, baby” bit. There is one incredible section where the lead guitar “sings” the melody note for note – but not in a staid, conventional way. Interesting too is that this has a fairly muted quality. Again, I attribute it to a British sense of understatement. It’s so easy to be harsh and loud. Instead, despite the in-your-face attitude of the Stones, there is also an undercurrent of subtlety.

Looking at the personnel on the album, I see Brian Jones was the man behind the slide guitar which is such a feature. He also played rhythm guitar, while Ian Stewart played piano, as did Jack Nitzsche, who also played tambourine on this 1965 album which not surprisingly reached No 1 in the UK.

Out of our Heads

The Stones’ third UK studio album (and fourth in the US), Out of our Heads, was released on September 24, 1965. I had recently turned nine. We did not have this album, and looking at the tracklist, only two songs are instantly recognizable – the massive hits Satisfaction and Play With Fire.

I was, however, lucky to pick up a local pressing of the original vinyl album at my friendly second-hand store, and so will give it a thorough listen shortly. Wikipedia tells us it was recorded in Hollywood, Chicago and London between November 2, 1964, and May 12, the following year. It again classes it as a rock album, when it no doubt will be more in the blues/R&B genre.

And again, the cover of the local SA album is completely different to the UK/US version. There, in a black and white image, Brian Jones is seen crouching in a narrow gap (possibly beside a staircase), with the others standing behind. Our version had close-up shots of the five against a black background. For some reason there is an asterisk after The Rolling Stones on both front and back covers. It was again produced by Andrew Loog Oldham on the Decca label and in the US by London Records. There were “significant differences” between the versions, says Wikipedia.

Ah, and I see my initial perusal of the tracks meant I missed another hit, The Last Time, which Wikipedia says was on the initial US version issued in July 1965, which featured another cover photo. It says this album was a “mishmash of studio recordings over a six-month period, including The Last Time and worldwide smash (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. The album, spurred on by Satisfaction’s success, became the Stones’ first US No 1 album. In 2003, the US edition was listed at No 114 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

With new songs recorded in September, the British version dropped some live tracks and recent hit singles (which Wikipedia says “rarely featured on albums in the UK in those times”), and added “exclusive songs that would surface later in 1965 in the US on December’s Children (And Everybody’s), plus songs not yet released in the UK. This version reached No 2 behind the Beatles’ Help! And, adds Wikipedia, it would be the Stones’ last UK album to predominantly feature R&B covers, as Jagger and Richards became “far more prolific writers” towards the end of 1965. Both editions were released as CDs in 2002. But which version is this SA pressing, which includes a collage of black and white photographs of the four on the back cover? Well it’s not the UK version, which starts with She Said Yeah and does not include Play With Fire or Satisfaction. But it is indeed the US track-listing, song for song the same. So let’s ditch that UK version, good though I’m sure all those songs are, and look at the US version, as pressed in SA way back when.

Yeah. Lots of R&B, and not much advance on the earlier albums, I’m afraid. The hits songs, though, really do stand out. It is as if the Stones were trying to outdo the great soul and R&B singers of the US, doing what Elvis did by appealing to a white audience but playing black music. And of course, with their musicianship and Jagger’s vocals, they rarely go wrong. I thought, initially, that I knew the first track, Mercy, Mercy, when I played it just now, from having heard the Stones do it. But, on reading Oldham’s notes on the back, I realised that of course I knew Otis Redding’s version of the Don Covay/Ronnie Miller song. “Have mercy, have mercy baby / Have mercy, have mercy on me…” Track two is an R&B number written by three guys, including Marvin Gaye. “I’m gonna find that girl if I have to hitchhike around the world.” While good and tight, with Jagger’s vocals as powerful as ever, this is nonetheless still a cover, and not necessarily a memorable one.

But that changes with the next track, The Last Time, a Jagger/Richards composition and one which became a smash hit single. It opens with that famous electric guitar riff alongside acoustic guitar, bass and drums. With loud cymbals and tambourine, the effect is quite tinny, but for an audience of screaming teens, it no doubt did the trick. Again, it is Jagger’s charismatic personality that lies at the heart of its success. Arguably one of the greatest entertainers of all time, he simply comes alive behind a microphone, and the evidence is there on every song. “Well I told you once and I told you twice / But ya never listen to my advice / You don’t try very hard to please me / With what you know it should be easy.” Effortlessly, the song’s chorus rolls along. “Well this could be the last time / This could be the last time / Maybe the last time / I don’t know. Oh no. Oh no.” It is good, simple songwriting, with no frills or word glut. “Well, I’m sorry girl but I can’t stay / Feelin’ like I do today / It’s too much pain and too much sorrow / Guess I’ll feel the same tomorrow.” After the chorus, a new slant on the opening verse: “Well I told you once and I told you twice / That someone will have to pay the price / But here’s a chance to change your mind / Cuz I’ll be gone a long, long time.” Two lead guitars add to the frenetic frenzy as the song winds through the final chorus, and Jagger then goes into familiar talking blues mode, saying things like “no, no, no”, and generally giving the song his usually work-over.

Then, it’s back to a slow blues with That’s How Strong My Love Is, another cover of a song Otis Redding apparently also made famous. It was good to hear some acoustic guitar early on and vocally Jagger comes pretty close to eclipsing the great soul singer. Good Times, a Sam Cooke composition, has strong echoes of Van Morrison, both in the vocals and the acoustic guitar backing. This is a slowish ballad-like song which contains a line similar to one that Jimi Hendrix would use to splendiferous effect elsewhere: “Come on and let the good times roll”.

The last track on Side One, I’m All Right, is a live recording of a Nanker Phelge song – remember that was the name they used for a song composed by all of them. And it shows clearly the sort of hysteria which accompanied the Stones concerts at the time – as it did the Beatles’. And of course Jagger knew just how to get the young girls eating out of the palm of his hand – the naughty blighter!

Another “Nanker Phelge” composition, I’m All Right was recorded live in March, 1965. The song starts with much screaming as Jagger speaks over the opening riffs. “I wanna tell you something baby / That you don’t know, no you don’t know / I’m gonna tell your heart, better listen to me / ’Cuz it’s alright, yeah it alright.” The pace picks up as Jagger starts to actually sing, while the hysterical screaming never ceases. Indeed, Jagger plays his crowd like an expert, accentuating just the right words at the right time to keep them crying out for more. The lyrics are hardly there at all – it’s all about the way they are presented. “It’s alright it’s alright it’s alright it’s alright it’s alright darling / It’s alright it’s alright it’s alright all night long / All night long all night long all night long / It’s alright it’s alright all day too.” It doesn’t take much imagination to work out what he’s singing about. And he emphasises it in a short burst. “Yeah it’s alright it’s alright / it’s alright all day too.” More screams and hysteria. This is the rock equivalent of phone sex. “I feel alright I feel alright / I feel alright I feel alright / I feel alright.” Then: “Do you feel it do you / Do you feel it do you do you do do you do you / Do you feel it baby do you feel it c’mon / C’mon yeah / C’mon c’mon c’mon c’mon baby …” And so on. All the time, the drums and guitar keep up a frenetic pace as Jagger’s tempting questions touch just the spot. What’s interesting is that when I googled “It’s all right stones lyrics” I was told there were “about 2 770 000” results on the Internet. Which just goes to show how much information is out there. This is a fairly obscure Stones song, yet it generates millions of bits of information.

Side 2, of course, opens with the big ‘un. “Da-daa, da-da-daa da daa-da, da-daaa”. Or something like that. The opening notes for (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction are some of the most well known in the history of rock music. And suddenly Jagger’s voice is crystal clear and full-blooded. This is no live recording. This is old rubber lips up close and personal with a studio microphone, and the result is as explosive as if he were in front of 50 000 screaming fans. “I can’t get no satisfaction, / I can’t get no satisfaction. / ’Cause I try and I try and I try and I try. / I can’t get no, I can’t get no.” The drums and bass ratchet up the pace: “When I’m drivin’ in my car / and a man comes on the radio / and he’s tellin’ me more and more / useless information / supposed to misfire my imagination. / I can’t get no, oh no no no. / Hey hey hey, that’s what I say.” Then Jagger subsides again. “I can’t get no satisfaction, / I can’t get no satisfaction. / ’Cause I try and I try and I try and I try. / I can’t get no, I can’t get no.” By the end of the chorus, the vibe is again one of angry distress. “When I’m watchin' my TV / and a man comes on to tell me / how white my shirts can be. / Well he can’t be a man ’cause he doesn’t smoke / the same cigarettes as me.” Ineluctably, the song continues: “I can’t get no, oh no no no. / Hey hey hey, that’s what I say.” Then it’s all slow and bluesy again for the chorus, before another tirade. “When I’m ridin’ round the world / and I’m doin’ this and I’m signing that / and I’m tryin’ to make some girl / who tells me baby better come back later next week / ’cause you see I’m on losing streak. / I can’t get no, oh no no no. / Hey hey hey, that’s what I say.” The song rides out on a black horse of despair. “I can’t get no, I can’t get no, / I can’t get no satisfaction, / no satisfaction, no satisfaction, no satisfaction.”

The next song, Cry To Me by Bert Russell, was another of those I thought I knew from the Stones, but this version is just an excellent version of something I’d first probably heard by Otis Redding. It is a superb ballad. “When your baby leaves you all alone / And nobody calls you on the phone / Don’t you feel like crying / Don’t you feel like crying / Come on baby / Cry to me.” This is Jagger as soul singer, and towards the end he lets rip with some great improvisation alongside enterprising lead and bass guitars.

Nanker Phelge are at it again with the ludicrously long-titled The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man, which Oldham in his sleeve notes says is the Stones’ “own tribute to the backroom boys of the music business”. Lead guitar and harmonica dominate as the song gets off to a fairly fast start. “Well I’m waiting at the bus stop in downtown L.A. / Well I’m waiting at the bus stop in downtown L.A. / But I’d much rather be on a boardwalk on Broadway.” This good-natured dig at a promo man ends with a bit of almost talking blues. “Yeah, I’m sharp / I’m really, really sharp / I sure do earn my pay / Sitting on the beach every day, yeah / I’m real real sharp, yes I am / I got a Corvette and a seersucker suit / Yes I have.” Then the final little dig. “Here comes the bus, uh oh / I thought I had a dime / Where’s my dime / I know I have a dime somewhere / I’m pretty sure...”

Then another Stones classic, again written by the Nanker Phelge five, Play With Fire. This was a single that came into my life in the mid-1960s and burnt itself upon my soul. And how great isn’t it to hear that acoustic guitar opening, then tambourine and harpsichord? And of course Jagger’s vocals are again of the top-drawer variety. This was one of those great Stones songs which started to delve into the heart of the consumption society, where lavish wealth coexists alongside abject poverty. Of course the poor don’t really get a mention, but certainly posh excess does. “Well, you’ve got your diamonds and you’ve got your pretty clothes / And the chauffeur drives your car / You let everybody know / But don’t play with me, ’cause you’re playing with fire.” Is this the equivalent of the “bit of rough” from the housing estate chatting up a rich bitch? “Your mother she’s an heiress, owns a block in Saint John’s Wood / And your father’d be there with her / If he only could / But don’t play with me, ’cause you’re playing with fire.” Makes you wonder what the father did wrong. The next verse seems to tell us. “Your old man took her diamonds and tiaras by the score / Now she gets her kicks in Stepney / Not in Knightsbridge anymore / So don’t play with me, ’cause you're playing with fire.” Not sure what that meant, but let’s see where this goes. “Now you’ve got some diamonds and you will have some others / But you’d better watch your step, girl / Or start living with your mother / So don’t play with me, ’cause you're playing with fire / So don’t play with me, ’cause you're playing with fire.” Yeah, a trifle in the air is where this leaves us, but it remains one of the all-time great Stones hits, and includes a wonderful acoustic guitar solo between verses. It was also, Wikipedia says, the last Stones song to use the Nanker Phelge pseudonym. Incredibly, it was the B-side to The Last Time single. More accurately, I’m sure, that was a double A-sided disc.

It may not have had great commercial success, but the idiosyncratic The Spider And The Fly, another Jagger/Richards composition, certainly has some interesting lyrics. Guitars and harmonica establish this as a slow blues – and the Dylan influence seems clear in the lyrics. “Sittin’ thinkin’ sinkin’ drinkin’ / Wondering what I’d do when I’m through tonight / Smoking moping, maybe just hopin’ / Some little girl will pass on by / Don’t wanna be alone but I love my girl at home / I remember what she said / She said, ‘My, my, my don’t tell lies, keep fidelity in your head / My, my, my, don’t tell lies. When you’re done your show go to bed. / Don’t say hi, like a spider to a fly / Jump right ahead and you’re dead" It is an interesting take on the age-old problem that men face before they “settle down”. “Sit up, fed up, low down go round / Down to the bar at the place I’m at / Sitting, drinking, superficially thinking / About the rinsed-out blonde on my left / Then I said, ‘hi’ like a spider to a fly / Remembering what my little girl said.” But who is the spider? “She was common, flirty, she looked about thirty / I would have run away but I was on my own / She told me later she’s a machine operator / She said she liked the way I held the microphone / And I said my, my, my like the spider to the fly / Jump right ahead in my web.” There is a fine harmonica solo towards the end, before the song fizzles out. Wikipedia says the song was the B-Side to the Satisfaction single in the UK.

The album concludes with another Jagger/Richards song, One More Try. Lead guitar and harmonica are again prominent in this R&B track. This is a long song, and was certainly not part of my growing up. “You need some money in a hurry / But things ain’t right / You try to beg and borrow maybe start a fight / Your friends don’t wanna know you they just pass you by / So they couldn’t be your friends because they wouldn’t lie.” The chorus goes: “Sit down shut up don’t dare to cry / Things will get better if you really try / So don’t ya panic don’t ya panic / Give it one more try / Don’t ya panic don’t ya panic / Give it one more try.”

It is a good album, but apart from those hits and one or two other tracks, not a great one. Again Jack Nitzsche helped out on organ, piano and percussion, while Phil Spector played bass on Play With Fire. The album reached No 2 in the UK in 1965 and No 1 in the US.


Again, I must confess that I did not encounter the Stones’ fourth UK and sixth US album, Aftermath, which has a front cover of the guys’ five faces in black and white, tinged with pink. Released on April 15, 1966, Wikipedia this time defines it as “rock, psychedelic rock”. Things have changed, and suddenly R&B is abandoned. The modern rock era is firmly upon us. But Andrew Loog Oldham is still the producer.

Wikipedia calls it “a major artistic breakthrough” for the Stones “in that it was the first full-length release by the band to exclusively feature Jagger/Richards compositions”. It was also their first album recorded entirely in the US – at the RCA Studios in Hollywood. And it was their first album released in stereo. When I read the above, I immediately thought of Brian Jones, originally the founder and leader of the band, but overtaken by Jagger and Richards. Was his nose out of joint? Well it seems he relished the role of creative genius, with Wikipedia saying the album is “notable for its musical experimentation, with Brian Jones playing a variety of instruments which feature prominently on each track, including the sitar on Paint It Black and the appalacian dulcimer on Lady Jane and I Am Waiting”. He also played marimbas on Under My Thumb, harmonica on High And Dry and Goin’ Home, as well as guitar and keyboards.

Again, the US and UK versions were different. With 14 tracks, it spent eight weeks at No 1 in the UK. But, says Wikipedia, 14 tracks was considered too long for the US. They ditched Out Of Time, Take It Or Leave It and What To Do, while replacing Mother’s Little Helper with Paint It Black, a No 1 hit single at the time. This version shot to No 2 in the US, and was ranked 108 on the list of Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 greatest albums of all time. In a sense, I guess it was the equivalent of the Beatles’ Revolver. Wikipedia said it established Jagger and Richards as songwriters like Lennon and McCartney and Dylan, while “redefining” the Stones from being an essentially R&B group to a “progressive and artistically inventive” one. A combination of the two albums was released on CD in 2002.

As noted earlier, this album was not part of our upbringing and I do not have a copy of it today, so many of those songs will have to go unheard, though I’m sure I’d recognise a fair number. But I do have the hits from this album on Hot Rocks, so let’s give them a listen. Well, sadly, Hot Rocks only had three of the songs, all classics. The opening track on the UK version, Mother’s Little Helper, seems to be all about those little illicit drugs which some people were taking at the time – though definitely not our mother. I’m probably naïve in thinking it was only teenagers taking uppers and downers and whatever else was going around. The song opens with Jagger’s immortal line: “What a drag it is getting old.” And that probably sums up the view that we, the youth, had of our parents. We were growing up and they were growing old. It’s the cycle of life, and the young are incredibly indifferent to the plight of the ageing. But this song is not about an older woman, is it? After that famous lead guitar riff – da-da-dee da-da daa – Jagger lets rip: “ ‘Kids are different today,’ / I hear ev’ry mother say / Mother needs something today to calm her down / And though she’s not really ill / There’s a little yellow pill / She goes running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper / And it helps her on her way, gets her through her busy day.” So this is a young mum who’s taking something to calm her down. “ ‘Things are different today,’ / I hear ev’ry mother say / Cooking fresh food for a husband’s just a drag / So she buys an instant cake and she burns her frozen steak / And goes running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper / And two help her on her way, get her through her busy day.” That’s the first time I’ve actually seen what was being sung there. I though it was “and to help her” not “and two help her”, but it makes sense. Then the chorus used to sound like, “Doctor, please, some more hippies…”, instead it is: “Doctor, please, some more of these / Outside the door, she took four more…” before the lament: “What a drag it is getting old.” Then the wife/mother’s gripe continues: “ ‘Men just aren’t the same today,’ / I hear ev’ry mother say / They just don’t appreciate that you get tired / They’re so hard to satisfy. You can tranquilise your mind / So go running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper / And four help you through the night, help to minimise your plight.” Ah, and I see two has become four, and the addiction intensifies. The final verse paints a bleak picture of futile existence. “ ‘Life’s just much too hard today,’ / I hear ev’ry mother say / The pursuit of happiness just seems a bore / And if you take more of those, you will get an overdose / No more running to the shelter of a mother’s little helper / They just helped you on your way through your busy dying day.” It must be one of the harshest critiques on the life of the housewife, but whether Jagger/Richards were empathising … well, probably not, as we’ll see.

I have been unable to find a version of Lady Jane among my old seven singles or on Hot Rocks, but of course it was again very much part of our upbringing. It succeeds Stupid Girl, which I cannot recall offhand. From memory, I think of Lady Jane as a folk-rock song, with Jagger’s vocals again pivotal. “My sweet Lady Jane / When I see you again / Your servant am I / And will humbly remain.” This is a far cry from the almost misogynistic attitude to women evinced on earlier songs. The chorus is equally submissive: “Just heed this plea my love / On bended knees my love / I pledge myself to Lady Jane.” Was she indeed a “lady” in the British peerage sense, or was he just placing her on this pedestal as part of the age-old use of flattery to win a woman’s heart – and much else besides? “My dear Lady Anne / I’ve done what I can / I must take my leave / For promised I am.” The song reads almost like lines from a Shakespearian play. Indeed, with all the world supposedly a stage, it continues: “This play is run my love / Your time has come my love / I’ve pledged my troth to Lady Jane.” It is not clear if he’s after Jane or not, for with one breath he’s taking his leave of her because “promised I am”, then with the next he has “pledged my troth to Lady Jane”. So who’s Marie then? “Oh my sweet Marie / I wait at your ease / The sands have run out / For your lady and me.” Marriage beckons, but I remain somewhat bemused and confused as to who will be marrying whom. “Wedlock is nigh my love / Her station’s right my love / Life is secure with Lady Jane.” It seems he had to give up his love for Marie for a life of financial security with the rich Jane.

But it doesn’t take long before the old aggro attitude towards women resurfaces on the next track, Under My Thumb, which is on Hot Rocks. Slow and bluesy, with chirpy little guitar chords, Jagger makes it clear early on who’s the boss. “Under my thumb / The girl who once had me down / Under my thumb / The girl who once pushed me around.” Then he takes the kudos for “improving” her. “It’s down to me / The difference in the clothes she wears / Down to me, the change has come, / She’s under my thumb.” Then there is a little jibing aside: “Ain’t it the truth babe?” This is tight R&B stuff, but with a decidedly modern, rock idiom. And the lyrics get rather nasty in the next verse, which I’m seeing for the first time. “Under my thumb / The squirmin’ dog who’s just had her day / Under my thumb / A girl who has just changed her ways.” Phew, and talk of male chauvinism! “It’s down to me, yes it is / The way she does just what she’s told / Down to me, the change has come / She’s under my thumb / Ah, ah, say its alright.” I sometimes think the Stones sang deliberately politically incorrect songs in order to outrage. Consider the next verse, which again I’m reading/hearing for the first time. “Under my thumb / A siamese cat of a girl / Under my thumb / She’s the sweetest, hmmm, pet in the world.” He repeats a few earlier sections before this gem: “Under my thumb / Her eyes are just kept to herself / Under my thumb, well I / I can still look at someone else.” Then, after all this abuse, the song ends with some rather ironic reassurances. “Take it easy babe / Take it easy babe / Feels alright / Take it, take it easy babe.” Yet this is still a great, great Stones song. In my teens I really never listened to the lyrics beyond how they fitted into the song. It was the overall product that counted. We never sat down and wrote out what we were hearing.

As for the rest of this album, I may well know many of the tracks if I heard them, but I can’t tell. Here they are, anyway: Doncha Bother Me, Goin’ Home, Flight 505, High And Dry, Out of Time (baby, baby, baby you’re out of time, surely, It’s Not Easy, I Am Waiting, Take It Or Leave It, Think, and What To Do. From the US version, of course, comes a song which was very big as a single all over the world, including South Africa, despite it mentioning the word “black” in the title. This was almost as subversive as the word “red”, but combined they were tantamount to treason by colours. Paint It Black, as I recall it, had the effect in my young mind of making me realise very early on that man has the ability to take away the colour in this life. He can do it by various means – political abuse, religious indoctrination, social conditioning. Or the vagaries of life itself can have that effect, whether through illness, loss of affection, loss of loved ones... So this was a bleak song, whose lyrics I am only now going to read for the first time, though of course their gist has, as noted above, been part of me since I was a boy. The mood is set at the outset by the combination of Jones’s sitar and the lead guitar, whose notes and chords play out an introduction before a brief pause, and then resume more aggressively, with Jagger’s voice carrying in it a dark a sense of foreboding. And immediately, on viewing the lyrics, I see I misheard the opening line. I thought he sang, “I see a window …” Instead, it seems, the words are: “I see a red door and I want it painted black / No colours anymore I want them to turn black / I see the girls go by dressed in their summer clothes / I have to turn my head until my darkness goes.” That was a crucial mistake on my part. It shows, perhaps, how dark my vision was at the time, although later on the song does speak about blotting out the sun, so I think it was an understandable mistake. But this song, thus far, seems again to be about a love-lost scenario. “I see a line of cars and they’re all painted black / With flowers and my love both never to come back / I see people turn their heads and quickly look away / Like a new born baby it just happens every day.” All that seems a trifle obscure, which is the songwriter’s prerogative. “I look inside myself and see my heart is black / I see my red door and must have it painted black / Maybe then I’ll fade away and not have to face the facts / It’s not easy facin’ up when your whole world is black.” Now he does seem to be inhabiting a dark cave of depression. The song takes on a reflective note at this point. “No more will my green sea go turn a deeper blue / I could not foresee this thing happening to you.” Again, that’s the first time I’ve read that line about the green sea. I heard, but never fathomed what was being said. There is a chink of optimism in the next lines. “If I look hard enough into the settin’ sun / My love will laugh with me before the mornin’ comes. After repeating some earlier lines, Jagger goes into his talking/shouting mode as the song winds down: “I wanna see your face, tainted black / Black as night, black as coal / I wanna see the sun blotted out from the sky / I wanna see it tainted, tainted, tainted, tainted black / Yeah!” I guess the satanist brigade must have enjoyed that. It is rather a nasty kind of curse really. But again, this was a Stones classic. Yet I wonder what happened between that optimism about laughing before the morning comes, and this final tirade?

As noted earlier, Brian Jones was in his elephant on this album. Apart from guitars, harmonica, harpsichord and sitar, he also played marimba, bells and dulcimer. What a tragedy that this gifted musician should have died in his prime. And again Jack Nitzsche is present on percussion, piano, organ and harpsichord. The dropped Stone, Ian Stewart, is here too, on similar instruments.

Between the Buttons

Their next album, Between the Buttons, was another that we did not have, but which did the rounds within our set. We, of course, knew it mainly through the hit singles. It was released on January 20, 1967, and is classified by Wikipedia as “rock, psychedelic rock”. It features a colour picture of the guys standing in a field, with the edges a trifle blurred.

I have to concede that in my young mind, I associated the title with the buttons found on clothing. Only now do I realise it could refer to a colloquial term for one or other drug. While I never took anything worse than marijuana, or dagga in this country, others often spoke of “tabs”, or tablets, and I think there was also a reference to buttons. Let’s see what the oracle, Wikipedia, says about it all.

Their fifth UK and seventh US studio album, it was recorded in Los Angeles in August 1966, and in London that November, says Wikipedia, which adds that they were at a point where they were “moving more into arty territory and away from their R&B roots”. It says with the release in 1965 of the Beatles’ Revolver, Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and Dylan’s Blone on Blonde, “the parameter of rock music had been expanded considerably”. Jagger and Richards’s response was Between the Buttons, which Wikipedia says betrays influences like The Kinks, and other British pop contemporaries.

I realise now that this album leaves a huge gap in my musical education. Because the UK version, it seems, did not even include the hit single, Let’s Spend The Night Together, which, with Ruby Tuesday on the reverse side, was released with the album in January 1967. The album, despite lacking this hit, reached No 3 in the UK. In the US, those two songs were used in place of Back Street Girl and Please GoHome – and the album reached No 2 in the US, while the single, Ruby Tuesday, went to No 1.

This was the last Stones album produced by Andrew Loog Oldham, with whom, says Wikipedia, the Stones had a “creative falling out” in mid-1967. It adds that his influence is stronger on this album than previously as he employs “Phil Spector-like layering” on some songs and uncredited backing vocalists. Brian Jones expands his use of instruments to include trumpet, trombone, recorder and banjo-ukelele. Richards’s guitar work is described as “distinctive” on songs like My Obsession, Connection, All Sold Out, Please Go Home and Miss Amanda Jones. Was it a good album? Wikipedia says that in the years after its release it “somehow became overlooked”. Today, however, “many critics and fans have come to appreciate the album’s eclectic qualities and a wealth of obscure gems, making it a unique album in the Rolling Stones’ released catalogue, one that more or less abandoned the Stones’ blues-based style and featured more consistent songwriting than their previous efforts”. As I said earlier, clearly something to get hold of. And a CD version was released in 2002, with Between The Buttons being ranked at 355 on the 2003 Rolling Stone magazine (no relation) list of the 500 greatest albums.

In the total absence of any of the tracks off the UK version, I have had to rely on the two great hits from the US pressing, contained on Hot Rocks, to get even an inkling of the sort of sound the Stones were creating here.

Let’s Spend The Night Together is, of course, one of their greatest hits, and David Bowie would do it even further justice in the 1970s on his album, Aladin Sane. Interesting here is the use of piano as a primary instrument. Backed by bass it starts the song and leads into that famous opening chorus of “daa da-da da-da-daa-da”, before Jagger, his vocals again flawless, gets into the lyrics. First, he joins the chorus with “My, My, My, My”, then launches into that famous opening line: “Don’t you worry ’bout what’s on your mind (Oh my) / I’m in no hurry I can take my time (Oh my) / I’m going red and my tongue’s getting tied (tongue’s getting tied) / I’m off my head and my mouth’s getting dry. / I’m high, But I try, try, try (Oh my) …” These lines, which again I see fully for the first time here, lead into that famous chorus: “Let’s spend the night together / Now I need you more than ever / Let’s spend the night together now.” There is something of the Beach Boys about the backing vocals as the song progresses. “I feel so strong that I can’t disguise (oh my) / Let’s spend the night together / But I just can’t apologize (oh no) / Let’s spend the night together / Don’t hang me up and don’t let me down (don’t let me down) / We could have fun just groovin’ around around and around / Oh my, my.” The chorus is repeated a couple of times, before the song slows: “You know I’m smiling baby / You need some guiding baby / I’m just deciding baby; now…” I can’t help hearing Bowie’s version as I try to recall that of the Stones, despite having just listened to it. What I do know is that the Jagger vocals are far slower and less urgent than on Bowie’s camped-up version. “This doesn’t happen to me ev’ryday (oh my) / Let’s spend the night together / No excuses offered anyway (oh my) / Let’s spend the night together / I’ll satisfy your every need (every need) / And I now know you will satisfy me / Oh my, my, my, my, my…” One just can’t help waiting for the Mick Ronson lead guitar to tear the show apart. But this is the original, and one must pay homage to an excellent piece of songwriting – with Jagger’s vocals sounding decidedly like John Lennon’s at times near the end.

Ruby Tuesday is one of those Stones songs which sees them taking a U-turn from their R&B roots. Psychedelic, perhaps? Anyway, here it is a slow, piano-led start with a whirring acoustic double bass added an interesting new dimension. “She would never say where she came from / Yesterday don’t matter if it’s gone / While the sun is bright / Or in the darkest night / No one knows / She comes and goes.” That distinctive flute comes in with “while the sun is bright”, and gives the song added interest. As the first verse ends, so the mood switches for the chorus: “Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday / Who could hang a name on you? / When you change with every new day / Still I’m gonna miss you...” This was such a big part of our growing up. We must have heard this song hundreds of times. “Don’t question why she needs to be so free / She’ll tell you it’s the only way to be / She just can’t be chained / To a life where nothing’s gained / And nothing’s lost / At such a cost …” This is sublime songwriting, so different in substance to the likes of Under My Thumb. “There’s no time to lose, I heard her say / Catch your dreams before they slip away / Dying all the time / Lose your dreams / And you may lose your mind. / Ain’t life unkind?” With that flute flailing, the piano tinkling and double bass whirring along, the song ends with the chorus repeated. It is one of the all-time Stones classics. But was it a double bass? Checking out who played what, it seems what I was hearing was a vibraphone, played by multi-instrumentalist Jones who, on this album, also played piano, organ, accordion, marimbas, flute, sitar, harmonica, recorder, banjo, percussion, kazoo, saxophone, horn, trumpet, theremin, dulcimer and guitar. But then again, it may indeed have been a double bass, because Bill Wyman played that as well as cello and electric bass. Jack Nitzsche and Ian Stewart were there again, on piano, harpsichord and piano and organ respectively.

In case I didn’t mention it earlier, this album reached No 3 in the UK and No 2 in the US, thanks no doubt to those two hit singles, with Ruby Tuesday reaching No 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1967. Let’s Spend The Night Together reached No 3 in the UK and No 55 in the US.

Their Satanic Majesties Request

I had a cursory look at Their Satanic Majesties Request earlier, but let’s give it the full attention in so richly deserves. I mentioned how it had a different title in South Africa, The Stones Are Rolling, no doubt to avoid official censorship. Classed solely as “psychedelic rock” by Wikipedia, this was probably the first Stones album we really got into in a massive way, listening to it over and over, and even nodding off after smoking a bit of dope during the snoring part.

It was recorded from February 9 till October 23, 1967, and released on December 8 of that year in the UK and a day later in the US. And, while the SA censors might have taken offence at its supposed Satanism, it seems the title was just a bit of fun, with Wikipedia saying it is a play on the “Her Britannic Majesty requests and requires …” text that appears inside a British passport. What better way to cock a snook at the authorities than to subvert the hallowed British passport in this way?

But it seems the critics were divided, with Richie Unterberger of Allmusic quoted by Wikipedia as saying few rock albums had split critical opinion as much. “Many dismiss the record as sub-Sgt Pepper posturing; others confess, if only in private, to a fascination with the album’s inventive arrangements, which incorporated some African rhythms, Mellotrons, and full orchestration. Never before or since did the Stones take so many chances in the studio (...) It’s a much better record than most people give it credit for being, though, with a strong current of creeping uneasiness that undercuts the gaudy psychedelic flourishes. In 1968, the Stones would go back to the basics, and never wander down these paths again, making this all the more of a fascinating anomaly in the group’s discography.” Be that as it may, for us it was a fascinating new departure, with many of the songs so inventive you couldn’t help but be enthralled when listening to it. I remember there was a time on one track, which I’ll discover when I give it a fresh listen, where we tried desperately but in vain to anticipate the drum beat, which constantly changes and seems to follow no logical pattern.

Wikipedia notes that the “long and sporadic” recording process was interrupted by court appearances and jail terms, though it gives no further details. The album reached No 3 in the UK and No 2 in the US, although “its commercial performance declined rapidly”. As noted above, some saw it as a “pretentious, poorly conceived attempt to outdo the Beatles and Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, which was released six months earlier. With Jagger and Richards showing a “growing rejection of the flower power scene”, the band returned in 1968 to “the hard driving blues that earned them fame early in their career”.

What’s most interesting about this album is that, according to Wikipedia, Keith Richards often leads the sessions “and most songs seem to be written by him”. This emerges on a 1998 bootleg box set of eight CDs with outtakes of the Satanic sessions. It calls the co-operation between Richards, Brian Jones and session pianist Nicky Hopkins “striking”. Hopkins and Jones also “indulge in creating elaborate soudscapes, with Jones’s parts created on the Mellotron being especially important for the sound and atmosphere of the album”. Which is actually quite bizarre when you consider that it was Jones who insisted the band be a strictly US blues band at the outset. Now he seems to have thrown his full weight behind this new progressive and psychedelic path while Jagger, presumably, was not as significant a player. Indeed, it again raises the question of whether Jagger did not rely to a large extent on the brilliant musicians who surrounded him. Certainly his vocals were like a lead instrument throughout, but it took geniuses like Richards and Jones to arrange the music. Wikipedia says the album has since been seen as “a kind of punk rockers’ own ragged flipside to the Beatles more cheerful masterpieces from the same period”. Citadel, in particular, has been covered widely by young rock bands.

The album cover, which as explained earlier, we did not encounter in SA, apart from maybe the odd imported copy, is a great riposte to the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s cover - and equally garish. Checking it out on Wikipedia, I notice that Jagger, dressed in a long black and gold cape, is seated in the middle with a tall pointed black hat, complete with yellow moon. The others all wear strange headgear, while the setting seems to be a sort of Eastern oasis, with snow-covered mountains behind. Around the picture is a border that resembles a whirling, cloudy sky. And according to Wikipedia, again, on initial releases the picture of the band was three-dimensional – what I assume we’d call a hologram today, but which Wikipedia describes as a “lenticular image”. The photograph was by Michael Cooper, and when viewed from a certain angle showed the lads’ faces turning towards each other, apart from the central figure of Jagger. Also hidden within the cover, presumably as an acknowledgement to Sgt Pepper’s, are the faces of the four Beatles. Similar “novelty” covers would include the zipper on Sticky Fingers, cut-out faces on Some Girls and stickers on Undercover. The album was reissued on CD in 2002.

As noted earlier, this was an album much treasured in our household – though not by our parents. Despite its different cover, and title, we really got into the psychedelic sound of the Stones, having always enjoyed their singles up to this point. But how does it sound today? Fortunately, I have a vinyl copy in fairly good nick, so let’s give it a listen.

Phew! Why was this album so good? Because finally you weren’t just listening to songs, however good, but there were different layers of interesting things happening alongside the basic melodies. This has to be one of the earliest psychedelic rock albums. I need to check how it relates time-wise to Pink Floyd’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn, but I certainly heard stuff here that must have inspired the likes of Syd Barrett. Having checked on Wikipedia, I see Piper was recorded at roughly the same time. Anyway, that 1967 SA pressing was indeed in good no-scratches nick, and what is notable generally is that again the Stones are the masters of understatement. Whereas lesser musicians would rely primarily on the quantity of sound generated, the Stones allow a great melding of sounds to create a thing of incredible beauty.

The album opens with somewhat maudlin piano followed by some big brass notes. Typically adroit acoustic guitar is then heard before a chorus, said to include John Lennon and Paul McCartney, picks up the vocals: “Why don’t we sing this song all together / Open our heads let the pictures come / And if we close all our eyes together / Then we will see where we all come from.” For a young teenager, this was mind-blowing stuff. One didn’t even need the help of grass to realise that there was more to life then met the eye. Of course for a child trying to discover who you are, this wasn’t the most helpful sort of stuff. But, so what, here I am some 40 years later trying to make sense of it. This was an album where, like the Beatles did, different vocal variations were used, included voices that sounded distant, muted, muffled or heard as if played through an old gramophone or through a PA system. At this point in the song, it is a muted voice that sings: “Pictures of us through the steamy haze / Pictures of us painted in our place.” After this opening gambit, the song enters a loose jam phase in which percussion and apparently bongos are prominent. There are some chirpy lead guitar and piano riffs, before big bass drum thumps and brass notes herald a repeat of the opening gambit. The next verse goes: “Pictures of us beating on our drum / Never stopping till the rain has come.” It is strange, after all these years, to finally see these words written down; words I had heard but never really digested. What also set this album apart was that it was a “concept album”, with each song contingent on what came before. Thus this opening track flows seamlessly into Citadel.

Another Jagger/Richards composition, Wikipedia says it features Brian Jones on Mellotron and Nicky Hopkins on piano and harpsichord. Certainly it is a heavy rock sound, with cymbals and drums prominent. There are snatches of great lead guitar and piano. But do you remember the lyrics? Well, frankly, I hardly recognise them. The fact is that on most of the songs on this album, the lyrics are deliberately muted – essentially just another instrument. But if you recall the melody, you can soon fit these words to it. “Men are armed shout who goes there / We have journeyed far from here / Armed with bibles make us swear / Candy and Taffy, hope we both are well / Please come see me in the citadel.” Then that crazy, archetypcal rock chord rhythm – daa-da, da-da-da-da, da-da, da-daa, or suchlike. “Flags are flying, dollar bills / Round the heights of concrete hills / You can see the pinnacle.” Then that strange chorus: “Candy and Yaffy, hope we both are well / Please come see me in the citadel.” There is an obvious attempt to create a medieval atmosphere. “In the streets are many walls / Hear the peasants come and crawl / You can hear their lovers call.” After the chorus, the next verse: “Screaming people fly so fast / In their shiny metal cars / Through the woods of steel and glass.” Suddenly it is not a medieval town, but a futuristic one. Because, indeed, this album does venture into the future on several tracks – a future, as we’ll see – that has already been more than overtaken.

It took Bill Wyman to write a song that really sets one on a subconscious journey into a different realm – a dream-like world readily found in deepest slumber. It sounds like a piano, but could be all manner of other instruments, which creates that mystical sound that presages the opening vocals. “In another land where the breeze and the / Trees and flowers glow blue / I stood and held your hand. / And the grass grew high and the feathers floated by / I stood and held your hand. / And nobody else’s hand will ever do / Nobody else will do …” This dreamscape is then rudely disturbed as heavy rock, founded on strummed acoustic guitar, takes over: “And I awoke / Was this some kind of joke / Much to my surprise / I opened my eyes.” It is a short-lived awakening, before sleep again conquers him. “We walked across the sand and the sea and / The sky and the castles were blue. / I stood and held your hand. / And the spray flew high and the feathers floated by / I stood and held your hand. / And nobody else’s hand will ever do / Nobody else will do …” But again, just as things are getting interesting, the rock sound coincides with: “Then I awoke / Was this some kind of joke / Much to my surprise / When I opened my eyes.” Again, though, he returns to dreamland. “We heard the trumpets blow and the sky / Turned grey when I accidentally said / That I didn’t know how I came to be here / Not fast asleep in bed. / I stood and held your hand. / And nobody else’s hand will ever do / Nobody else’s hand …” As the final chorus winds down, so the room is filled with the sound of snoring – apparently authentic Wyman snoring. This finally, thankfully, fades and morphs into …

2000 Man. Back in the late 1960s that seemed a long, long way away. It’s like us here, near the end of the first decade of the new millennium, thinking about life in say 2040. It’s impossible to imagine how things will have changed by then. Of course the year 2000 was something many had written about, including Arthur C Clarke with his epochal 2001, A Space Odyssey. Anyway, this was one of those classic Stones songs where the acoustic guitar is preeminent. Keith Richards is the virtuoso on the guitar who gives this song such a lift. And it is here that we used to try in vain to keep the Charlie Watts beat, and failed miserably, because the accent in each bar, or however the experts would put it, obeys no obvious rules. So, after that bright acoustic guitar opening, Jagger’s voice launches into the thing in his own inimitable way. “Well, my name is a number / A piece of plastic film / And I’m growin’ funny flowers / In my little window sill.” Stop right there. That’s the first time I’ve actually “heard” those words in the sense of knowing what was being said. And it’s great writing, setting the scene for a sort of sci-fi futuristic world where your life is determined by your number on a piece of plastic film. Consider that in the digital world of today it is numbers, the binary code, which determines all else, and this is not far-fetched at all. The chorus sees a change of mood. “Don’t you know I’m a 2000 man / And my kids, they just don’t understand me at all.” That makes a change. Because normally it is the adults who don’t understand their kids – but clearly this guy is living 30 years before his time. Let’s see where it takes him. “Well my wife still respects me / I really misused her / I am having an affair / With the random computer … / Don’t you know I’m a 2000 man / And my kids, they just don’t understand me at all.” Phew, again. What is/was a “random computer” in Jagger/Richard’s minds? Was it a personal computer, or, even more bizarrely, a mobile, or random, laptop? And how do you have an affair with a computer? Well, via e-mail, FaceBook, Mxit. It’s all around us today, and I think this song hints at it. There is another shift of mood at this point. “Oh daddy, proud of your planet / Oh mummy, proud of your sun / Oh daddy, proud of your planet / Oh mummy. proud of your sun.” I never heard the puns here, because I never heard the word “planet” or saw the spelling of “sun”. The song gets progressively heavier. “Oh daddy, your brain’s still flashin’ / Like it did when you were young / Or do you come down crashin’ / Seeing all the things you’d done / All was a big put on.” At this point I would have been listening out for that crazy electric guitar lead break. Anyway, that chorus is repeated a couple of times before the song slows for the lines: “And you know who’s the 2000 man / And your kids they just won’t understand you at all.” The song ends with Brian Jones’s seething organ, before the vinyl crackles and splutters into the next track.

Sing This Song Together (See What Happens). It is the appended part of this song’s title – itself a reprise of the opening track – which is key to understanding what indeed does happen. Because this is probably one of rock music’s first long jams on a commercial album – all 8:33 minutes of it. As noted above, 2000 Man fades and out of it emerges, well, a cough, a bit of chatter, the sound of a recorder, more laughter and then the (in)famous question, “Where’s that joint?”, before a fast-paced guitar and monk-like chanting settles one into some heavy rock, with a steady beat but no real melody. All Wikipedia tells us is that this track “contains a hidden coda entitled ‘Cosmic Christmas’”, but it fails to account for the wonderful array of weird and wonderful sounds created. Trumpets, booming bass drums, flutes, recorders, some icy thin blues guitar all build up to a crescendo of sorts as the simple melody evolves: daa-daa-da-da-da-da daa-daa-da-da, or suchlike. This is picked up and repeated by a brass section. There are echoes of early Pink Floyd here as the quirky sound effects create amazing layers of texture which, you can imagine, certainly had my young mind transfixed as a teen. There is a piano solo and some excellent lead guitarwork, but all this is just a prelude to the final singing of the line of the title. “Why don’t we sing this song all together / Open our minds let the pictures come / And if we close all our eyes together / Then we will see where we all come from / Pictures of us in the circling sun / Pictures of the show that we’re all one.” It is truly a great listen, and no doubt one of the great technological feats in the history of sound effects. The final wind effects alongside a remote, haunting bass drum, are superb. Oh, regarding the Cosmic Christmas coda, Wyman reputedly says in a slowed-down tape: “We wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmass and a happy New Year!” Which is innocuous enough and hardly the stuff of devil-worshippers.

Anyway, Side 2 starts on a high note, with recorded chatter as in a market. Above the hubbub can be heard the words, “any price, take what you like”, before a loud whistle sounds. This sets in train the sound of a tinkling piano and strings, with quick-paced percussion. There is a bit of brass before the full rock sound kicks in and Jagger, backed by several other voices, sings: “She comes in colours ev’rywhere; / when She combs her hair / She’s like a rainbow / Coming, colours in the air / Oh, everywhere / She comes in colours.” Having just painstakingly corrected the spelling of colour from the US aberration color, I must concede at this point that our juvenile minds at the time went directly to the sexual connotation, imagining what a wonderful orgasm it must be for her to “come in colours”. Again, it is the prominent use of the acoustic guitar on this track which adds to its textural beauty. There are also some interesting vocal harmonies, ooh-la-laa, ooh-la-laa, sort of thing, as the song progresses. Let’s see where the other verses take us. “Have you seen her dressed in blue? / See the sky in front of you / And her face is like a sail / Speck of white so fair and pale / Have you seen a lady fairer?” The first point is that that verse was entirely lost on me at the time. Now it all makes sense, and it’s really good poetry, is it not? A bit Lennon-like, in fact. And clearly coming in colours means what it says, she arrives dressed in colours which flatter. “Have you seen her all in gold? / Like a queen in days of old / She shoots colours all around / Like a sunset going down / Have you seen a lady fairer?” This is a great rock song, and is again especially effective due to its very British sense of understatement. Pure musicianship is accentuated above brash loudness. Strings (arranged, says Wikipedia, by John Paul Jones) alongside electric lead guitar – the beautiful and the bold – that’s what does the trick. And, of course, the song “seques” seamlessly into the next track.

The Lantern opens with the chiming of a bell and some subtle acoustic guitar and an interesting echoing sound, which could just be Nicky Hopkins on Mellotron. There is again a mystical quality about this song, as big drum beats herald the opening lines of Jagger’s crystal-clear vocals. “We, in our present life, / Knew that the stars were right.” The mood darkens: “That if you are the first to go, / You’ll leave a sign to let me know, / Tell me so. / Please, carry the Lantern lights.” Alongside the acoustic guitar are great lead and bass guitar passages. “You crossed the sea of night, / Free from the spell of fright.” Again, there is that increase of tension: “Your cloak it is a spirit shroud. / You’ll wake me in my sleeping hours, / Like a cloud. / So, please, carry the Lantern high.” The accompanying acoustic guitar during this section is particularly effective, as it mirrors, note for note, the sung lyrics. But then it’s back to that whirring, whizzing acoustic guitar for the next verse. “Me, in my sorry plight, / You waiting ev’ry night.” Mood swing: “My face it turns a deathly pale, / You’re talking to me, through your veil, / I hear you wail. / So, please carry the Lantern light.” A final four lines impart a sense of real medieval fear. “The servants sleep, / The doors are barred. / You hear the stopping of my heart – we never part. / So, please carry the Lantern high.”

Okay, so what does Gomper mean? That is the title of the next track, which is another jam-based classic featuring Jones on electric dulcimer and recorder. Indeed, it is that very dulcimer that had me stumped at the outset. High-pitched, it sounds like an electric piano, and is backed by lead guitar and bass, then some thumping drums, as the simple melody is constructed. “By the lake with lily flowers / Wallow away the evening hours / To and fro she’s gently gliding / On the glassy lake she’s riding.” Jones’s recorder adds an English folk quality to the song, which slows for the next section. “She swims to the side / The sun sees her dried / The birds hover high / I’d stifle a cry.” This song involves much slowing down and then resuming of the melody. “The birds hover high / She moans with a sigh…” I detected piano and organ among a rich plethora of sound effects as an incredible psychedelic jam unfolds, with the roll of the drums particularly important in maintaining the structure.

If Pink Floyd were diverted by that song, they would have been positively inspired by the next track, 2000 Light Years From Home, written, according to Wikipedia, by Jagger while he was “briefly in jail”. This time Bill Wyman creates some amazing electronic sound effects on the synthesizer as the song opens. The notes seem to float through space, while piano notes (or is that Jones’s Mellotron again) are bent and distorted. A great bass riff and solo violin, brought to a halt by a flourish of drum beats, catapults Jagger’s vocals into motion. “Sun turnin’ ’round with graceful motion / We’re setting off with soft explosion / Bound for a star with fiery oceans / It’s so very lonely, you’re a hundred light years from home.” Isn’t that a classic bit of songwriting? This was a time, even before man had landed on the moon, when spaceflight was the big enterprise of scientists, poets and dreamers. I remember in my first year in school, in 1963, treasuring a picture book in our sparse classroom-based library of rockets and space travel. Jimi Hendrix himself must have heard some of the effects achieved by Keith Richards on this track, because they bear an uncanny resemblance to what he achieves on Electric Ladyland, though of course here they are part of a more densely textured array of sounds. How sounds might sound in deep space seems to be part of what was sought here, another area that Pink Floyd would explore. But it’s also great, finally, to read the lyrics and appreciate just what the writers were seeking to convey. “Freezing red deserts turn to dark / Energy here in every part / It’s so very lonely, you’re six hundred light years from home.” So the journey continues, and the distance from earth escalates by multiples of light years. In the next verse he’s a thousand light years from home, then comes a word from Ground Control – or is it from another planet? “Bell flight fourteen you now can land / Seen you on Aldebaran, safe on the green desert sand / It’s so very lonely, you’re two thousand light years from home / It’s so very lonely, you’re two thousand

light years from home.” On listening to the sound effects at the end I wrote that they sound post-apocalyptic, but clearly they are meant to convey, in any event, a sense of absolute dislocation; of possible irreversible separation from home, and that’s a frightening thought.

The album lightens up considerably on the final track, On With The Show, which Wikipedia tells us features Jones on Mellotron and concert harp. Again, the song opens with light-hearted chatter, as at a sort of soirée. An electric guitar picks out the melody. Then a voice, as if over a public address system, announces in a plumy British accent: “Good evening one and all we’re all so glad to see you here / We’ll play your favorite songs while you all soak up the atmosphere / We’ll start with Old Man River, then maybe Stormy Weather, too / I’m sure you know just what to do / On with the show good health to you.” While the subject matter is completely different, there is an obvious similarity to the sound effects which the Beatles achieve on Sgt Pepper’s, and indeed on the White Album too. The voice – is this Jagger? – still sounds somewhat muted as the singing starts. “Please pour another glass, it’s time to watch the cabaret / Your wife will never know that you’re not really working late / Your hostess here is Wendy, you’ll find her very friendly, too / And we don’t care just what you do / On with the show good health to you.” Having read those lines for the first time, I finally realise that this may all be happening in a rather more seedy environment than a simple reception of some sort. Maybe it’s a high-class brothel. Certainly, the voices are suitably pompous. But then, maybe that’s what the Stones were seeking to convey – that infidelity and debauchery are often also the preserve of the upper classes. Indeed, too many stories of Tory politicians being caught in compromising positions seems to attest to this. A voice says: “Petina, start the show at 2 o’clock”, before the singer, now totally unmuffled, continues: “And if by chance you find that you can’t make it anymore / We’ll put you in a cab and get you safely to the door / But we’ve got all the answers, and we’ve got lovely dancers, too / There’s nothing else you have to do / On with the show good health to you.” All the time, what I took to be a piano played with a flourish but is probably Jones’s concert harp, keeps up a merry racket, as the party gets more and more out of hand. “You’re all such lovely people dancing gaily round the floor / But if you have to fight, please take your trouble out the door / For now I say with sorrow, until this time tomorrow / We’ll bid you all a fond adieu / On with the show good health to you.” It is all so toffee-nosed and proper – which means they can only be up to no good at all. Virtuoso piano work at the end would surely have inspired a young David Bowie to use similar sounds on Aladdin Sane a few years later.

If by chance I did not mention it earlier, Their Satanic Majesties Request reached No 3 in the UK and No 2 in the US in 1968. In Another Land made it No 87 in the US singles chart, the Billboard Hot 100, in 1967, while She’s A Rainbow reached No 25 in 1968.

Wikipedia’s list of “trivia” about the album confirms some facts about the SA album. It notes that the maze on the inside cover of the UK and US releases cannot be completed – due to a wall at about a half radius from the lower left corer. So one can never reach the “It’s Here” in the centre. Now this maze was in fact featured on the cover of the SA version, with the words The Stones are Rolling written across it. And Wikipedia says it was released with this name in SA “because of the word ‘Satanic’ in the title”.

Beggars Banquet

After this brief foray into the world of psychedelic music, the Stones returned to their blues roots in 1968, at a time when Richards and Jagger were wresting power from former band leader Jones whose mental health, says Wikipedia, was “steadily deteriorating”. It didn’t help that Richards also stole Jones’s girlfriend, Anita Pallenberg.

Anyway, that year saw the release of the seminal single, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, in May, and later the album, Beggars Banquet, which reached No 3 in the UK and No 5 in the US. With the help of new producer Jimmy Miller, works like the “distorted acoustic guitar-driven Street Fighting Man and Sympathy For the Devil” saw the band enter a phase that would see them rated “The Greatest Rock and Roll Band In the World”, says Wikipedia. And for the guitar afficianados, it adds that the new Stones sound was also the product of Richards starting to use open tunings on his guitar, such as a “modified open-G tuning (6th string removed) that is heard on the 1969 single Honky Tonk Woman, Brown Sugar (Sticky Fingers, 1971), Tumbling Dice, Happy (Exile On Main Street, 1972) and Start Me Up (Tattoo You, 1981)”.

But let’s get back to that next album, Beggars Banquet. With the hits Street Fighting Man and Sympathy For The Devil, this album set the Stones up as the enfants terrible of the pop music world, a title they had already courted with the satanic reference in the title of their previous album. The cover of Beggars Banquet, which I can’t recall us actually having, was decidedly spartan compared to that of its precedessor. It consisted of black cursive writing on a cream background. The album was recorded between March 17 and July 25, 1968, says Wikipedia, at Olympic Studios in London. Its genre is now given purely as “rock”, and it was relatively short at just under 40 minutes. It was released in the UK on December 6, 1968, and as was the tradition, a day later in the US.

Wikipedia says the album marked the band’s return to its “R&B roots”, with it being “generally viewed as simpler and more primal than the conspicuous psychedelics of Their Satanic Majesties Request”. The return to those roots followed the appointment in early 1968 of Jimmy Miller, who had produced the Spencer Davis Group and Traffic. They would work together until 1973, during the real high point of the Stones’career, in my view. With recording having started in March, with a view to a July album release, it was decided to release Jumpin’ Jack Flash as a single in May. It was a major hit. The album would be Brian Jones’s “last full effort” with the Stones, says Wikipedia. Again, he provides a welter of musicality, including slide guitar on No Expectations, harmonica on Dear Doctor, Parachute Woman and Prodigal Son, sitar and tambura on Street Fighting Man, and mellotron on Jigsaw Puzzle and Stray Cat Blues. It was on the latter that Richards first used the open G chord style, later replicated on Brown Sugar and others.

While the recording sessions were nearly over by June, Wikipedia says both Decca in England and London Records in the US rejected the planned cover design – a graffiti-covered lavatory. With the album held back, the Stones finally allowed its release in December “with a simple imitation invitation card cover”. The idea for a minimalist design, it seems, came from the Beatles’ White Album which was released a month before Beggars Banquet. Accusations of the Stones imitating the Beatles naturally followed. In 1984, the “initial CD remastering” of the album was released – which seems damned early for a CD release.

And imagine this scenario. Wikipedia says on December 10 and 11, 1968, the band aimed to promote their new album by recording a “television extravaganza entitled The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus featuring John Lennon, Eric Clapton, The Who and Jethro Tull among the musical guests”. But, incredibly, the project “did not air and would not receive an official release until 1996”. Now that would be something to see/hear. As I said, I don’t believe we had this album which ranked No 57 on that 2003 Rolling Stone magazine list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Oh, and the album was too slow. Yes, Wikipedia says when it was reissued in 2002 the songs were restored to their “slightly faster speed”. For over 30 years the album was heard not only slower, but as a result also in a different key. The new version is about 30 seconds shorter as a result, with Wikipedia calling the differences “subtle, but important”. In 2005, a group called The Yuppie Pricks parodied the album’s title and cover with their album, Brokers Banquet.

With Miller producing the album, what is conspicuous is his use of several Traffic musicians on the album, including Dave Mason playing shehani (what?) on Street Fighting Man and Ric Grech playing fiddle on Factory Girl.

As noted earlier, this album was unfortunately not part of our upbringing, but the three key hits songs from it most definitely were. I can categorically state that no album that I can think of kicked off with a more controversial track than this one. Sympathy For The Devil, which sees Jagger and Richards at their most fiendishly creative, runs to all of 6:27 minutes. And it is one of the most atmospheric and evocative rock songs ever made – not to mention lyrically being perhaps the ultimate piece of social commentary by a post-war youth in the face of a world many feared wouldn’t be around for too much longer, given the arsenals of nuclear weapons being built up in both East and West.

The song’s opening is a masterful conception, with drums, bongos and Rocky Dijon’s percussion, interspersed with chants from the band establishing the almost manic sense of anxiety and anticipation that permeates the song. Nicky Hopkins is the man who provides that brilliant piano backing for Jagger as he intones those unforgettable, iconic opening lines. “Please allow me to introduce myself / I’m a man of wealth and taste / I’ve been around for long, long years / Stole many man’s soul and faith.” Now as one who was about 12 when this came out, it is probably as well I never picked up fully on what was being sung here. I just loved the mood of the song. Now, some 40 years later, it is great to finally see what precisely these guys were singing. So now I know that he “stole many man’s soul and faith”, with is rather a nasty thing to do. Keith Richards plays bass on this song, and that staccato thump kicks in after the opening verse. “And I was ’round when Jesus Christ / Had his moment of doubt and pain / Made damn sure that Pilate / Washed his hands and sealed his fate.” Then that immortal chorus. “Pleased to meet you / Hope you guess my name / But what’s puzzling you / Is the nature of my game.” So what they are doing, essentially, is observing that there are evil forces out there; always have been. The devil cropped up at various points in history. “I stuck around St. Petersburg / When I saw it was a time for a change / Killed the Czar and his ministers / Anastasia screamed in vain.” The Russian revolution. Then Hitler’s reich. “I rode a tank / Held a general’s rank / When the blitzkrieg raged / And the bodies stank.” The chorus is followed by: “I watched with glee / While your kings and queens / Fought for ten decades / For the gods they made (woo woo, woo woo).” Not too sure what that’s about, except perhaps that Europe’s history of war and decimation was really all about royal family feuds. Oh and there was a Hundred Years War sometime between England and France. Jagger, his face contorted in a sneer, continues: “I shouted out, / ‘Who killed the Kennedys?’ / When after all / It was you and me (who who, who who).” It is about here that Richards unleashes one of the greatest lead guitar breaks in rock history. It is not so much about the speed or the length of the outburst, but about its visceral, ear-tearing intensity. High-pitched, the notes squeak, screech and squawk, judder and stutter. Then comes a variation on the opening verse. “Let me please introduce myself / I’m a man of wealth and taste / And I laid traps for troubadours / Who get killed before they reached Bombay (woo woo, who who).” The next chorus sees Jagger really in the channel. “Pleased to meet you / Hope you guessed my name, oh yeah (who who) / But what’s puzzling you / Is the nature of my game, oh yeah, get down, baby.” All the time the taunting backing vocals chant the words “who who, who who”. Another variation follows: “Pleased to meet you / Hope you guessed my name, oh yeah / But what’s confusing you / Is just the nature of my game (woo woo, who who).” Then a couple more classic lines: “Just as every cop is a criminal / And all the sinners saints / As heads is tails / Just call me Lucifer / ’Cause I’m in need of some restraint (who who, who who).” Doesn’t this throw up all sorts of questions about the state of the world. For the youth at the time, the cops – or “pigs” – were seen as the criminals. They were squares who bust kids for smoking pot. “So if you meet me / Have some courtesy / Have some sympathy, and some taste (woo woo) / Use all your well-learned politesse / Or I'll lay your soul to waste, um yeah (woo woo, woo woo).” New word for me that, politesse. And it does exist. My Oxford dictionary has it as “formal politeness”. Anyway, the ending of this song is anything but polite. It plays out with Jagger in fine, fine fettle in his roll as devil’s advocate. Hopkins’s piano is rollicking along, and Richards’s lead guitar is back to the standard set earlier. Indeed the interplay between it and Jagger’s voice is one of the all-time achievements of the rock era, just here, at the tail-end of Sympathy For The Devil. “Pleased to meet you / Hope you guessed my name, um yeah (who who) / But what’s puzzling you / Is the nature of my game, um mean it, get down” And the chanting continues “woo woo, woo woo”. And Jagger lays it on. “Woo, who / Oh yeah, get on down / Oh yeah / Oh yeah! (woo woo).” He seems to improvise. “Tell me baby, what’s my name / Tell me honey, can ya guess my name / Tell me baby, what’s my name / I tell you one time, you’re to blame.” After some more woo, woos, he concludes with “What’s my name / Tell me, baby, what’s my name / Tell me, sweetie, what’s my name.” The chanting continues to the end as Richards’s guitar stalls and stutters, like a car trying to find a gear. It is a richly textured, stunningly original masterpiece.

And it is followed by a song that is almost its equal, but is very different in approach. Instead of a heavy rock sound, No Expectations starts with a strummed acoustic guitar with Brian Jones’s slide guitar in close attendance. It is a slow, bluesy number, its sparseness enabling Jagger to give full vent – as if he ever doesn’t – to his vocal range. “Take me to the station / And put me on a train / I’ve got no expectations / To pass through here again.” It is another of those Stones songs that have lived with me for some 40 years. Indeed, because the song isn’t on Hot Rocks, I was lucky to find it on an old 1968 seven single – with Street Fighting Man on Side 1. “Once I was a rich man and / Now I am so poor / But never in my sweet short life / Have I felt like this before.” Nicky Hopkins again contributes his piano skills here, while the bass fleshes out the sound superbly. “You heart is like a diamond / You throw your pearls at swine / And as I watch you leaving me / You pack my peace of mind.” That’s some clever lyric-writing – the diamond-hard heart of a wealthy pearl-throwing woman. “Our love was like the water / That splashes on a stone / Our love is like our music / It’s here, and then it’s gone.” Except that their music will remain forever, so powerful has it been. But this suitor seems to have given up hope against this formidable female. “So take me to the airport / And put me on a plane / I got no expectations / To pass through here again.”

One day, I’ll have the funds and the time to buy this album. But for now, all I can do is record that the next track was Dear Doctor, which featured Jones on harmonica. Parachute Woman had both Jones and Jagger on harmonica, while Jigsaw Puzzle, at 6:17 minutes, featured Richards on acoustic and electric slide guitars, Jones on Mellotron and Hopkins on piano. I have probably not heard these, although there is always the likelihood I’ll recognise them.

The next track, however, was an integral part of my youthful fall from grace. The world did seem a scary place at the time. Maybe I was just old enough to start to realise how much shit was going on all over the place. I was digesting the news from around the world, and not much of it was pretty. So Street Fighting Man probably encapsulated for me that sense of insecurity. It features Richards on bass, Jones on sitar and tambura and Dave Mason on shehani. But now, having just listened to it, I am wondering about that sitar, because I seemed to be hearing a rather tinny guitar on the opening bars and some thumping drums. Then that superb bass line which really characterises the song and is probably why Richards opted to do it himself, leaving old Bill Wyman no doubt feeling a trifle redundant. But let’s see what they were really singing about. “Ev’rywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet, boy / ’Cause summer’s here and the time is right for fighting in the street, boy / But what can a poor boy do / Except to sing for a rock ’n’ roll band / ’Cause in sleepy London town / There’s just no place for a street fighting man / No.” Well I’m glad to hear this is actually a pacifist song. While the world may be racked by wars and insurrection, swinging London town was a haven of loud, but peaceful, music. Is this a reply to the Beatles’ Revolution, perhaps? “Hey! Think the time is right for a palace revolution / ’Cause where I live the game to play is compromise solution / Well, then what can a poor boy do / Except to sing for a rock ’n’ roll band / ’Cause in sleepy London town / There’s no place for a street fighting man / No.” Even here, he seems to advocate that most English of solutions, compromise, rather than any kind of bloody revolution. Or does he? By “he” I mean Jagger, who personified the views the Stones expressed by virtue of the fact that he spoke them. “Hey! Said my name is called disturbance / I’ll shout and scream, I’ll kill the king, I’ll rail at all his servants / Well, what can a poor boy do / Except to sing for a rock ’n’ roll band / ’Cause in sleepy London town / There’s just no place for a street fighting man / No.” There is really not much substance to this, is there? Yet it is the song’s presence, and in particular its title, which resonates, even now.

As for the rest of the album, I can only record that Prodigal Son was written by Rev Robert Wilkins and features Jones on harmonica. Stray Cat Blues has Jones on Mellotron, while Factory Girl has Ric Grech on fiddle, with Mason or Hopkins (Wikipeida is not sure) playing Mellotron using a mandolin sound. On the final track, Salt Of The Earth, Richards sings the final verse. I’d dearly love to hear all these songs one day. It is interesting to note that the Watts Street Gospel Choir are credited with providing backing vocals, along with Jimmy Miller and, obviously, the band members themselves.

Did I mention that Beggars Banquet (no apostrophe) made No 3 on the UK album chart in 1968, and No 5 on the US Billboard pop album chart in 1969.

While not on the album, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, released just before it, made No 1 in the UK singles charts and No 3 in the US in 1968. Street Fighting Man went to No 48 in the US in 1968, but it only made the UK charts in 1971, reaching No 21.

Jumpin’ Jack Flash is on Hot Rocks, so let’s give it a fresh listen. This was another of those songs which saw the Stones in their prime. It is a straight-forward rock track, with distorted acoustic guitar, bass and drums providing a steady beat which made this a favourite for dancing. One website says the main guitar riff was Bill Wyman’s creation, but that he wasn’t credited for it. It adds that in 1968 a promotional film, from which “the modern music videos evolved”, was shot with the Stones playing wearing body paint and heavy make-up, and “far-out costumes”. Alice Cooper would later copy this, the start of Glitter Rock. It also, says the site, led to the look that the band Kiss would use. The song starts with words of warning, “Watch it!”, before Jagger launches forth. “I was born in a cross-fire hurricane / And I howled at my ma in the driving rain, / But it’s all right now, in fact, it’s a gas! / But it’s all right. I’m Jumpin’ Jack Flash, / It’s a Gas! Gas! Gas!” There are echoes of Hendrix’s “birth” on Voodoo Child here. “I was raised by a toothless, bearded hag, / I was schooled with a strap right across my back, / But it’s all right now, in fact, it’s a gas! / But it’s all right, I’m Jumpin’ Jack Flash, / It’s a Gas! Gas! Gas!” A Dickensian sort of upbringing it was then? “I was drowned, I was washed up and left for dead. / I fell down to my feet and I saw they bled. / I frowned at the crumbs of a crust of bread. / Yeah, yeah, yeah / I was crowned with a spike right thru my head. / But it’s all right now, in fact, it’s a gas! / But it’s all right, I’m Jumpin’ Jack Flash, / It’s a Gas! Gas! Gas!” Phew! How’s that spike for a crown? I never heard that bit when I was a kid, and probably just as well. Anyway this great, classic song plays out with those famous lines repeated. “Jumping Jack Flash, it’s a gas / Jumping Jack Flash, it’s a gas” And it was indeed a gas - another of those immortal hits from the Sixties.

Let It Bleed

As noted earlier, their next album, Let It Bleed, was not part of our upbringing, though it did contain several seminal singles with which we were very familiar.

Released on December 5, 1969, the album had been a long time in the making, with sessions at London’s Olumpic Studios occurring on November 16 and 17, 1968, and then from February 10 till November 2, 1969 – ie, overlapping with Beggars Banquet. It was released shortly after their 1969 US tour, their first to America in three years.

Actually, Wikipedia says recording of the single, You Can’t Always Get What You Want, actually started in March 1968, before Beggars Banquet was released, but work on the new album really began in earnest in February, 1969, and continued sporadically until November, with Jones only performing on two tracks – the autoharp on You Got The Silver and percussion on Midnight Rambler. His replacement-to-be, Mick Taylor, plays on Country Tonk and Live With Me. The album saw Richards do his first solo vocal lead on You Got The Silver.

Incredibly, it seems the Byrds toured South Africa in 1968. Yes, Wikipedia says that that year Richards had been hanging out in London with Gram Parsons, “who had left the Byrds on the eve of their departure for a tour in the Republic of South Africa” – in protest at apartheid, I hope. Anyway, it was through Parsons that Richards fell under the spell of country music. This, in turn, suggests Wikipedia, let to the band recording a “true honky-tonk song, Country Honk”. An up-tempo and rock version of this would appear as their next single, Honky Tonk Woman. As I say, I’m not familiar with Let It Bleed, so have missed the fiddle playing of Byron Berline on Country Honk. The album, says Wikipedia, is considered “a great summing up of the dark underbelly of the 1960s”. It is also the second of a run of four studio albums “generally regarded as among their greatest achievements artistically”. The others are Beggars Banquet (1968), Sticky Fingers (1971) and Exile on Main Street (1972). Let It Bleed flew to No 1 in the UK, briefly nudging the Beatles’ Abbey Road aside, and No 3 in the US. In 2003, it was listed at No 32 on that Rolling Stone magazine list of the greatest 500 albums of all time. In 2002, it was reissued on CD.

As to that cover, Wikipedia says it is a “surreal sculpture designed by Robert Brownjohn” and consists of the record being played “by the antique tone-arm of a turntable, which is fitted with a tall record-changer-style spindle supporting, in place of a stack of records, a number of items stacked on a diner plate”. From bottom to top, this includes “a magnetic tape/movie real canister labelled Stones – Let It Bleed; a clock face; a pizza; a small tyre; a cake with kitsch icing, reminiscent of art-deco-style plaster rendering; and the band itself in the form of wedding-style topping figures”. Delia Smith became a celebrity cookery writer, but at the time she made the cake she was “unknown”, says Wikipedia. According to Bill Wyman, says Wikipedia, the artwork was inspired by the working title for the album, Automatic Changer. Having not laid hands on the album, it is interesting to note that the reverse of the sleeve shows the same “record stack”, partially “consumed” – with the whole thing appearing like “evidence of the aftermath of a wild party”. And, in an age when aesthetics were far more important than accuracy, for “visual reasons” the track listing on the sleeve does not follow that of the record.

So, while Let It Bleed remains one of those albums I still have to get into, it did contain several tracks that made it onto Hot Rocks, and which everybody with an ounce of Stones music in their blood, would have known backwards.

Gimme Shelter opens the album with a low-key sound which just builds and builds through its 4:32 minutes. Gentle electric guitar and drums are joined by percussion. A lead guitar joins in unobtrusively, along with the bass. A simple melody kicks in as the song gets heavier. When Jagger finally starts singing, his drawly voice is also muted, stifled. As a result, I never heard what he was singing all those years ago, and I’m sure most other fans didn’t either. Also, this was “incidental” music, because we were busy living our lives, jolling, smoking, listening, dancing, possible, if we were lucky, even making out with some lush. Anyway, with Merry Clayton providing the female backing vocals which are such a feature of this track, Jagger starts to tell the tale, which I’m seeing now for the first time. “Oh, a storm is threatening / My very life today / If I don’t get some shelter / Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away.” And so what was that famous chorus, with Clayton’s voice adding a shrill edge? “War, children, it’s just a shot away / It’s just a shot away / War, children, it’s just a shot away / It’s just a shot away.” In other words, not a pretty prospect. Indeed, it seems this is indeed something of a dirge, a lament about the state of the world with Vietnam being then what Iraq/Afghanistan is as I write, a dark cloud on the global mood. “Ooh, see the fire is sweepin’ / Our very street today / Burns like a red coal carpet / Mad bull lost its way.” That is some great poetry from two lads who you’d not expect, looking at them, to harbour such creativity in their often-plastered souls. Next time round that sobering chorus is embellished with “Rape, murder! / It’s just a shot away / It’s just a shot away”, which is repeated for effect several times. The blues-rock lead guitar, percussion and a tinkling piano, and possibly even some harmonica later on, provide the packaging for a moody wonderwork. “The floods is threatening / My very life today / Gimme, gimme shelter / Or I’m gonna fade away.” But there is hope in the final chorus, as war gives way to love. After the “war, children … it’s just a shot away” lines, he concludes with “I tell you love, sister, it’s just a kiss away / It’s just a kiss away / It’s just a kiss away …"

Why would I like to hear the entire album? Well imagine Ry Cooder on mandolin on a Robert Johnson song, Love In Vain, played by the Stones. Or the young Mick Taylor on guitar on Country Honk and the next track, Live With Me, which also features Bobby Keys on sax and Richards on bass. I’d also love to hear the title track, Let It Bleed, which has Ian Stewart on piano. I’ve just given the lyrics to this song a quick read and am sure I’ve not heard it before. Hard to believe, but true. What is quite a revelation is that this is one mean song, with lyrics the likes of which our apartheid rulers would not have taken too kindly too. It is harsh, man, brutal. It starts innocuously, with the lines “Well, we all need someone we can lean on / And if you want it, you can lean on me” repeated. There is titillation, too. “She said, ‘My breasts, they will always be open / Baby, you can rest your weary head right on me / And there will always be a space in my parking lot / When you need a little coke and sympathy’.” The next verse substitutes dream for lean, with a wet dream the aim. “Yeah, we all need someone we can cream on / And if you want to, well you can cream on me.” Then things get violent. “I was dreaming of a steel guitar engagement / When you drunk my health in scented jasmine tea / But you knifed me in my dirty filthy basement / With that jaded, faded, junky nurse / Oh what pleasant company.” Then things get almost cannibalistic. “We all need someone we can feed on / And if you want it, well you can feed on me / Take my arm, take my leg, oh baby don’t you take my head?” Then the significance of the title dawns. “Yeah, we all need someone we can bleed on / Yeah, and if you want it, baby, well you can bleed on me / Yeah, we all need someone we can bleed on / Yeah, yeah, and if you want it, baby, why don’cha bleed on me.” This could refer to an act of woman abuse, or perhaps an acceptance of women’s menstrual cycle. For they link bleeding with orgasm. “Ahh, bleed it alright, bleed it alright, bleed it alright / You can bleed all over me / bleed it alright, bleed it alright, bleed it alright / You can cum all over me.” I need to hear that song.

The next track, Midnight Rambler, is one of the great Stones classics, a dense blues-rock which really kicks ass. There is great lead guitar and harmonica as the simple melody is sketched, before bass and drums kick in and Jagger fires up the vocals. “Did you hear about the midnight rambler / Everybody got to go / Did you hear about the midnight rambler / The one that shut the kitchen door / He don’t give a hoot of warning / Wrapped up in a black cat cloak / He don’t go in the light of the morning / He split the time the cock’rel crows." This is a sinister visit with obvious bad intentions. With the harmonica wailing, the song picks up tempo. “Talkin’ about the midnight gambler / The one you never seen before / Talkin’ about the midnight gambler / Did you see him jump the garden wall / Sighin’ down the wind so sad / Listen and you’ll hear him moan / Talkin’ about the midnight gambler / Everybody got to go.” The lead guitar seems to increasingly sound like a slide is being used, as the song’s urgency increases. “Did you hear about the midnight rambler / Well, honey, it’s no rock ’n’ roll show / Well, I’m talkin’ about the midnight gambler / Yeah, the one you never seen before.” The song, having reached a peak, then slows to a crawl, with now just the guitar and harmonica battling it out. Jagger emerges from the earth to croak: "Well you heard about the Boston... (there is a thwack of drums, etcetera) / It’s not one of those / Well, talkin’ ’bout the (another thwack) / The one that closed the bedroom door / I’m called the hit-and-run raper in anger / The knife-sharpened tippie-toe... / Or just the shoot ’em dead, brainbell jangler / You know, the one you never seen before.” This has the sinister aura of a nightmare on if not Elm Street then at least Fleet Street in Dickensian London. “So if you ever meet the midnight rambler / Coming down your marble hall / Well he’s pouncing like proud black panther / Well, you can say I, I told you so / Well, don’t you listen for the midnight rambler / Play it easy, as you go / I’m gonna smash down all your plate glass windows / Put a fist, put a fist through your steel-plated door.” Who ever, before the Stones, would have dared to paint such a scenario on a popular, commercial album? The tale continues. “Did you hear about the midnight rambler / He’ll leave his footprints up and down your hall / And did you hear about the midnight gambler / And did you see me make my midnight call.” Then the denouement. “And if you ever catch the midnight rambler / I’ll steal your mistress from under your nose / I’ll go easy with your cold fanged anger / I’ll stick my knife right down your throat, baby / And it hurts!” At 6:57 minutes, this is one of the longest horror stories in modern rock music. I just got cold all over thinking that this was out there, and I never, thankfully, got into its maudlin message. But I love the song, those change of tempo, that raw bluesy feel, the dark, rough textures. Poor old Brian Jones is credited for the percussion (congas) on this song, which was practically his swansong.

I’ve yet to hear Richards’s first solo lead vocal on a Stones song, You Got The Silver, which also features Jones on autoharp, his only other contribution to the album. Next up is Monkey Man, featuring Nicky Hopkins on piano, which again I have not heard.

And finally comes You Can’t Always Get What You Want, which Wikipedia tells us features producer Jimmy Miller on drums and Al Kooper on French horn, piano and organ. How great to hear that acoustic guitar, beautifully strummed, alongside the sound of the organ, in the long, rambling introduction, before Jagger breaks the spell with those immortal opening lines. “I saw her today at the reception / A glass of wine in her hand / I knew she would meet her connection / At her feet was her footloose man.” Again, a confession. I was hearing “I was so hurt today at the reception”, and I never really heard the rest anyway, so it’s great finally to discover what this one was all about. The chorus is still somewhat folk/country in mood. “No, you can’t always get what you want / You can’t always get what you want / You can’t always get what you want / But if you try sometime you just might find / You get what you need.” Above the percussion, piano drums and bass kick in on that last line, turning the track into a solid bluesy rock number, with the organ adding to the richly textured sound. “We went down to the demonstration / To get your fair share of abuse / Singing, ‘We’re gonna vent our frustration / If we don’t we’re gonna blow a 50-amp fuse’.” So this is about anger and spleen. “I went down to the Chelsea drugstore / To get your prescription filled / I was standing in line with Mr. Jimmy / And man, did he look pretty ill / We decided that we would have a soda / My favorite flavour, cherry red / I sung my song to Mr. Jimmy / Yeah, and he said one word to me, and / that was ‘dead’ / I said to him … / ‘You can’t always get what you want / You can’t always get what you want / You can’t always get what you want / But if you try sometimes you just might find / You get what you need.” With saxophone and bongos added to the mix, the imagery again gets increasingly bloody. “I saw her today at the reception / In her glass was a bleeding man / She was practiced at the art of deception / Well I could tell by her blood-stained hands.” After the chorus is changed a couple of times, the song ends in a rich tapestry of sounds, with cymbals slashing through the jungle of a piano jangles and a plaintive lead guitar.

As a Let It Bleed postscript – not post mortem – I have to take a look at that contemporary hit, Honky Tonk Woman, which was such a classic and their last No 1 hit single in the UK. Who, from our era, didn’t try at some point to play the opening lead riff of this song, which is sparse and in your face rock, with the unaccompanied guitar tearing out the opening melody, before Jagger sings words I had not till this point fully divined: “I met a gin soaked, bar-room queen in Memphis, / She tried to take me upstairs for a ride. / She had to heave me right across her shoulder / ’Cause I just can’t seem to drink you off my mind.” Isn't that a brilliant opening verse? I doubt Dylan could have mustered such a scene. But I can’t agree with this website’s version of the chorus: “It’s the honky tonk women / Gimme, gimme, gimme the honky tonk blues.” That should surely read “She’s a honky tonk woman…”. Anyway, the next verse, with Jagger in full fettle, reads: “I played a divorcee in New York City, / I had to put up some kind of a fight. / The lady then she covered me with roses, / She blew my nose and then she blew my mind.” Surely one of the classic lines in the history of rock. There’s not much else to the song except a repeating of the chorus and some excellent saxophone alongside superb backing vocals. It would be in 1970, that one Elton John would do a version of this song that nearly blew our socks off on the live album 17-11-70.

Looking at the musicians on Let It Bleed, one interesting facet is the use of the London Bach Choir, whose choral arrangements were by Jack Nitzsche. While the album, as mentioned, made No 1 and No 3 in UK and US respectively, it was only You Can’t Always Get which did anything as a single, reaching No 42 in the US way later in 1973.

Get Yer Ya-Yas Out!

The downfall of Brian Jones. That is what it was. It is hard to imagine, based on his productivity on the above-cited albums, that he would be deemed redundant, but that is what happened. And, says Wikipeida, it was an “ever-increasing consumption of drugs” that was making him “less and less reliable”. He was “increasingly” absent from recording sessions “either by choice, or simply not invited to attend”. And so the Stones found a pretext to put in the knife. With a US tour planned, Jones was unable to obtain a working visa. Wikipedia says that after a “reduced contribution” to Beggars Banquet, and a “minimal one” on Let It Bleed, he was forced out of the band for good after an “infamous late-night visit to his rural home from Jagger, Richards and Charlie Watts on 8 June, 1969”. In his place came brilliant 20-year-old guitarist Mick Taylor, formerly of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. The jazz-influenced prodigy had auditioned back on May 14, 1969, and was introduced to the media on June 13 in Hyde Park.

What became of Brian Jones, the Stones founder? Wikipedia says he “retreated” to his Cothford Farm home in Sussex, formerly owned by Winnie the Pooh author AA Milne. He was “drinking heavily” in the local pub while planning a new blues band. But within a month of his dismissal, and two days before the Stones were to play a free concert in Hyde Park, Brian Jones was found at the bottom of his swimming pool “surrounded by statues of Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh”. Wikipedia says the death was found to have been “by misadventure”, but “some regard the cause of the drowning a mystery”.

So the Stones cancelled their free concert? Not a chance. Despite Jones’s tragic death, the show went on, with 200 000 fans packing the park. Jagger did, notes Wikipedia, read a tribute from Shelley’s Adonais and release “hundreds of (mostly dead) butterflies” in Jones’s honour. Yet the concert was “under-rehearsed and suffering from drug use by some of the remaining members”. Filmed by Granada TV, it was later shown on television as Stones in the Park. Perhaps that should have read Stoned in the Park.

So what did really happen at Altamont? The Stones toured the US in November, 1969, with Richards and Mick Taylor’s interplay on lead guitar deemed a highlight. Wikipedia says in 2004, Guitarplay Magazine rated them the best guitar duo ever. In a bid to emulate their Hyde Park free concert and do their own equivalent of the Woodstock festival, they staged the Altamont Free Concert at a disused speedway about 40 miles east of San Francisco. Not mincing words, Wikipedia says it was “a disaster” after the Stones hired a local chapter of the Hell’s Angels to provide security. This in the wake of the Grateful Dead using the Angels for many years. But, it seems, the bikers got a pit pished – no surprise there – and especially not since part of their payment was “copious amounts of free beer”. Wikipedia says they “did not share the ‘mellow vibe’ of the 300 000 concert-goers”. A “running battle between fans and security” culminated in the death of a young black guy, Meredith Hunter, who was stabbed and beaten to death by the Angels after drawing a firearm after he was manhandled by the Angels as the Stones played, pretty ironically, Under My Thumb. The concert, and murder, were immortalised in Albert and David Maysles’ film, Gimme Shelter.

While most remembered for the tragedy at Altamont, Wikipedia says the tour actually saw the Stones “at the top of their game”, with Taylor’s “fluent blues playing” adding considerably to the mix. The often overlooked rhythm section was dubbed the “greatest white rhythm section I’ve ever seen” by their producer, Jimmy Miller, who might have been a trifle biased. And so another album I missed, Get Yer Ya-Yas Out! – a title which was common to all at the time – was made from live recordings of the tour. It reached No 1 in the UK in 1970 and No 6 in the US. Wikipedia says famed critic Lester Bangs called it the best live record ever.

Sticky Fingers

In 1969, the Stones’ contract with Decca Records, signed in 1963, expired. They were now, says Wikipedia, “global superstars”, but they wanted to be their own boss and so refused to sign a new contract. Indeed, they fulfilled a contractual obligation by recording a final, unreleasable ballad, Cocksucker Blues, before forming their own record company. And their debut album, Sticky Fingers, would be a massive hit, reaching No 1 on both sides of the Atlantic. And, with Richards’s now “escalating drug addictions”, Mick Taylor increasingly worked with Jagger on the song composition side. Despite this, all songs are credited to Jagger/Richards which, says Wikipedia, frustrated Taylor and “perhaps contributed to his eventual exit from the group”. As noted earlier, the album, released in March 1971, when I was in Standard 7, or Grade 9, contains several major hits, such as Brown Sugar, Wild Horses and Moonlight Mile.

Sticky Fingers was recorded between December 1969 and January 1971, with Jimmy Miller still producing. It was the band’s first release on their new Rolling Stones Records label, and features Taylor on all tracks except Sister Morphine, which was cut during the Let It Bleed sessions in March, 1969. While the band now had a free hand on how their albums and covers turned out, they were shocked to find that their manager Allen Klein (who succeeded Andrew Loog Oldham in 1965 when Oldham concentrated on producing the band), had done a dirty of them. They discovered they had signed their entire 1960s copyrights to Klein and his company ABKCO, who proceeded to release all their stuff on ABKCO Records.

Wikipedia says Sticky Fingers is possibly the band’s “most drug-drenched album”, with over half of the songs mentioning drug use, with the others alluding to it. As usual, a single, Brown Sugar, was released just ahead of the album and it peaked at No 1 in the US and No 2 in the UK. When the album came out in April, 1971, it was “rapturously received and hit No 1 worldwide”, says Wikipedia. It launched a run of eight consecutive chart-topping Stones hits in the US.

While I mentioned that cover earlier, let’s see if there was more to it than met the eye. Wikipedia says the working zipper opens to reveal “a man in cotton briefs (rubber stamped THIS PHOTOGRAPH MAY NOT BE-ETC”. It says it was conceived by Andy Warhol, photographed by Billy Name, designed by Craig Braun and featured the lower torso of either Warhol assistant Jed Johnson or Joe Dallesandrof. It was not, stresses Wikipedia, Jagger’s body, as fans had speculated at the time. But there were problems with the zipper which, it was found, was damaging the vinyl during stacked shipments of the record. As a result, it was “unzipped” slightly to the middle of the record, where damage would be minimized. Another feature of the album is its first use of the famous “Tongue and Lip Design”, which was by John Pasche.

Despite its zipper problems, the TV network VH1 in 2003 named it the greatest album cover of all time. In 2003 it was also listed at No 63 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums. Bizarrely, and only in America, a chain of barbecue restaurants is called Sticky Fingers, and each features the album framed as part of its decor.

What impresses me, having just listened again to this album, is that the music-buying public were so sophisticated at the time. This record reached No 1 in the US and UK, yet it is by no means commercial. Indeed, it is also not that accessible. There are few of those typically catchy melodies or riffs. Indeed, I found the album somewhat maudlin, but in the way that the blues may indeed by depressing and uplifting at the same time. This album was not an integral part of our upbringing. By 1971, I think we were into other sounds, though of course the Stones were still a prominent part of the overall music movement which saw us through high school. But it was only recently I picked up a vinyl copy of this album, complete with zipper, and got into some of the less famous songs. And I have a visceral, body-felt recollection of most of the tracks which takes me back to that tricky era in the early 1970s. It was a time when we were doing lots of marijuana, or dagga. And our heroes in the rock music world were taking all sorts of stuff. Fortunately, I never followed suit, so I don’t even know, or care, what brown sugar was, but it was certainly lethal.

The inner sleeve of the album is a revelation. Printed in the USA, it lists all the musicians and what they played on each track, which is most helpful. The opening track, Brown Sugar, starts with some sharp, chirpy guitar, which is soon joined by Wyman’s bass, and together they lay down the melody for that famous line from the song, “you should’ve heard it just around midnight”. This is full-blooded, belting rock, with Bobby Keys’s saxophone giving it an added dimension. Of course again this was one of those songs we heard often, but I personally never really heard or deciphered much of the lyrics. So what was that opening line? “Gold Coast slave ship bound for cotton fields / Sold in a market down in New Orleans / Scarred old slaver knows he’s doing alright / Hear him whip the women, just around midnight.” So, incredibly, this starts as an indictment of slavery. And the chorus almost makes me wonder if we’re talking not about drugs but about brown-skinned women. “Ah, brown sugar how come you taste so good? / Ah, brown sugar just like a young girl should.” In race-conscious apartheid South Africa, under the Immorality Act, is was forbidden, verboten, for a white man to have sex with a dark-skinned woman. But many did, and there was a saying that “you haven’t tasted sweets until you’ve tasted chocolate”. Anyway, back to Jagger’s lyrics: “Drums beating cold English blood runs hot / Lady of the house wonderin’ where it’s gonna stop / House boy knows that he’s doing alright / You should a heard him just around midnight.” And is this the “house boy” having it off with the “white madam”? A repeated chorus endorses the view that this is about having a black woman. “Ah, brown sugar how come you taste so good? / Ah, brown sugar just like a black girl should.” What of the next verse? “I bet your mama was a tent show queen / And all her boyfriends were sweet sixteen / I’m no school boy but I know what I like / You should have heard me just around midnight.” Sex was never far from the minds of Jagger and Richards, and how better to rile the conservative right than sing about having it across the colour line? “I said yeah, yeah, yeah, wooo! / How come you... How come you taste so good? / I said yeah, yeah, yeah, whew / Just like a black girl should / I said yeah, yeah, yeah, wooo!” Jagger sounds a bit like Little Richard at times here on a song which clearly, to me, is not at all about whichever drug they christened brown sugar.

If you said Sway to me I’d deny I’d heard it. Yet the chorus line on this, the next track, is so familiar you’d kick yourself. Jagger plays rhythm guitar, Nicky Hopkins piano and Richards does backing vocals on a slow, bluesy track which rattles to life with some heavy drums. “Did you ever wake up to find / A day that broke up your mind / Destroyed your notion of circular time.” Then that most familiar melody, although I’m seeing the actual lyrics for the first time. “It’s just that demon life has got you in its sway / It’s just that demon life has got you in its sway.” Despite the presence of Mick Taylor, thus far the lead guitar has not played a prominent roll. Methinks it would always be difficult in the presence of such a powerful ego as Jagger. “Ain’t flinging tears out on the dusty ground / For all my friends out on the burial ground / Can’t stand the feeling getting so brought down.” After that rather morbid chorus, he seems to find hope. “There must be ways to find out / Love is the way they say is real, startin’ out …/ Hey, hey, hey now / One day I woke up to find / Right in the bed next to mine / Someone that broke me up with the corner of her smile, yeah…” The song, a tight-knit blues-rock, plays out with that haunting chorus and some fine piano from Nicky Hopkins.

Listening to Wild Horses afresh, I couldn’t help noting a Grateful Dead influence. This is so country-based that Jagger even sings in an American accent. Gently strummed acoustic guitar – probably Richard – introduces the song, with Jagger’s vocals quiet and subdued. Again, we all knew the famous chorus to this song, but what was it really about? “Childhood living is easy to do / The things you wanted I bought them for you / Graceless lady, you know who I am / You know I can’t let you slide through my hands.” Then that chorus. “Wild horses couldn’t drag me away / Wild, wild horses, couldn’t drag me away.” It was so simple to find an old English idiom and put it to music, but it took genius to do so the way the Stones did. And of course Jagger’s vocals, which build in strength as the song progresses, are – much like those of Janis Joplin – the driving force of everything the band does. “I watched you suffer a dull aching pain / Now you’ve decided to show me the same / But no sweet, vain exits or offstage lines / Could make me feel bitter or treat you unkind.” So he’s hooked on this chick, and nothing will tear them apart. It is great to hear the lead guitar become more assertive in the latter part of this song, which remains acoustic throughout, backed by a pulsating electric rhythm section. “I know I dreamed you a sin and a lie / I’ve got my freedom, but I don’t have much time / Faith has been broken, tears must be cried / Let’s do some living after love dies.” The song then concludes with a repeat of the chorus, marking another great Stones achievement.

Misheard lyrics are embarrassing. Like spelling that word incorrectly. But I seemed to hear “give me every loving” or suchlike when, had I just consulted the track list, I’d have known Jagger was singing the title, Can’t You Hear Me Knocking. This is one of the heaviest tracks on the album. It starts with hectic lead guitar, bass and drums. Jagger’s vocals are equally aggro, like Lennon on some of those screaming Beatles songs. Bill Preston on organ, adds substance, while Bobby Keys on sax gives interesting textures around the chorus. “Yeah, you got satin shoes / Yeah, you got plastic boots / Y’all got cocaine eyes / Yeah, you got speed-freak jive.” This is obviously about drugs. But the chorus is quick enough to wake anyone up. “Can’t you hear me knockin’ on your window / Can’t you hear me knockin’ on your door / Can’t you hear me knockin’ down
your dirty street, yeah.” The lyrics don’t really amount to much. But what I really enjoy is the lengthy jam session which kicks in about midway through this lengthy 7:15 minute track. It is led by Rocky Dijon on congas and features some wonderful sax by Keys in counterpoint to lead guitar from, I suppose, Taylor and Richards. There is an almost Peter Green quality to the lead guitar at times, while Watts’s drumming is superb.

And then to the final track on Side 1, that little gem called You Gotta Move, which was written by Fred McDowell and the Rev Gary Davis. Here we see Richards and Taylor in their element as two guitars join forces for a tour de force, while Bill Wyman contributes on electric piano. This is a slow blues in which the guitars whirr and hums – and Richards also features alongside Jagger on vocals. “You gotta move / You gotta move / You gotta move, child / You gotta move / Oh, when the Lord gets ready / You gotta move.” So the religious connection becomes clear. This is a gospel blues, man. “You may be high / You may be low / You may be rich, child / You may be poor / But when the Lord gets ready / You gotta move.” And the guitars rattle and roll in celebration. “You see that woman / Who walks the street / You see that police / Upon his beat / But then the Lord gets ready / You gotta move / You gotta move.”

I never thought I’d say it, but I found the controversially titled opening track on Side 2, Bitch, somewhat bland. It is a fast-paced rock track, whose chorus is instantly recognisable to Stones fans, but I did find it became a bit monotonous. Apart from the regular band members, the song features trumpet by Jim Price, saxophone by Bobby Keys and percussion by Jimmy Miller. Was the title justified, or a bit of pot-stirring? “Feeling so tired, can’t understand it / Just had a fortnight’s sleep / I’m feeling so tired, I’m so distracted / Ain’t touched a thing all week.” This is Stones dissolution. “I’m feeling drunk, juiced up and sloppy / Ain’t touched a drink all night / I’m feeling hungry, can’t see the reason / Just ate a horse meat pie.” We used to have a term for those pies, Stink Pies. Anyway, the chorus is more famliar. “Yeah when you call my name / I salivate like a Pavlov dog / Yeah when you lay me out / My heart is beating louder than a big bass drum, alright.” Ah, and then the bitch reference. “Yeah, you got to mix it child / You got to fix it must be love / It’s a bitch / You got to mix it child / You got to fix it but love / It’s a bitch, alright.” It is not pretty stuff, is it? But then the Stones had a bad guys reputation to uphold. “Sometimes I’m sexy, move like a stud / Kicking the stall all night / Sometimes I’m so shy, got to be worked on / Don’t have no bark or bite, alright.” Then that chorusy bit ends the song, along with some shrill trumpet notes.

Jagger’s vocals are at their most sublime on the next track, I Got The Blues, which is a slow blues featuring Billy Preston on organ. The great Stones rhythm section is most evident on this song, with Price’s trumpet again much to the fore. And Jagger’s vocals rely on good lyrics. “As I stand by your flame / I get burned once again / Feelin’ low down and blue, Yeah.” This is simple, clever song-writing. “As I sit by the fire / Of your warm desire / I’ve got the blues for you, Yeah.” He even hopes that the “other guy” won’t abuse his girl. “Every night you’ve been away / I’ve sat down and I have prayed / That you’re safe in the arms of a guy / Who will bring you alive / Won’t drag you down with abuse.” I like these following lines. “In the silk sheet of time / I will find peace of mind / Love is a bed full of blues.” Then he pours his heart out as Preston tears into that organ. “And I’ve got the blues for you / And I’ve got the blues for you / And I’ve got burned up for you / And I’ll tear my hair out / I’m gonna tear my hair out just for you / If you don’t believe what I’m saying / At three o’clock in the morning, babe, well, / I’m singing my song for you.”

From the angst of love lost, to a more sinister form of self-flagellation. Sister Morphine is one of the all-time Stones classics, and I notice it was composed by Jagger, Richards and Marianne Faithful. It features Ry Cooder on guitar and Jack Nitszche on piano. Mick Taylor had not yet joined the group when this was recorded in 1969. Imagine if Cooder had stayed with them? As with many of the greatest Stones song, it is the acoustic guitar which provides the opening lines – and it is particularly well played, while Jagger’s vocals are subdued and strained. “Here I lie in my hospital bed / Tell me, Sister Morphine, when are you coming round again? / Oh, I don’t think I can wait that long / Oh, you see that I’m not that strong.” The lead electric guitar starts to weep and wail at about this point. “The scream of the ambulance is sounding in my ears / Tell me, Sister Morphine, how long have I been lying here? / What am I doing in this place? / Why does the doctor have no face?” This is the dystopian nightmare of the drug addict. “Oh, I can’t crawl across the floor / Ah, can’t you see, Sister Morphine, I’m trying to score.” The bass and drums kick in about now, giving the song a heavier feel. “Well it just goes to show / Things are not what they seem / Please, Sister Morphine, turn my nightmares into dreams / Oh, can’t you see I’m fading fast? / And that this shot will be my last.” The song is punctuated by surges and recessions, as hope rises and is dashed. “Sweet Cousin Cocaine, lay your cool cool hand on my head / Ah, come on, Sister Morphine, you better make up my bed / ’Cause you know and I know in the morning I’ll be dead / Yeah, and you can sit around, yeah and you can watch all the / Clean white sheets stained red.” Again, not a pretty song, but hopefully one – in all its terrible beauty – that prompted a few people to kick the drugs habit. Personally, I don’t recall us ever actually ascertaining what the song was about, and the mention of morphine and cocaine merely seemed to endorse the belief that they were out there to be experimented with.

The title, Dead Flowers, was unfamiliar to me, but having listened afresh to it, I’ll never forget that famous chorus about bringing him dead flowers. Again, it is a quick-tempo acoustic guitar, played by Jagger, which sets the scene. And, underlining the fact that this is a country-rock song, Jagger again puts on an American accent. But this is a brilliant Stones song – particularly perhaps because it dares to be different, and perhaps also because there are echoes here of the great Grateful Dead. But what was it all about? “Well when you’re sitting there in your silk upholstered chair / Talkin’ to some rich folk that you know / Well I hope you won’t see me in my ragged company / Well, you know I could never be alone.” Those opening lines always escaped me, but this chorus is ingrained. “Take me down little Susie, take me down / I know you think you’re the queen of the underground / And you can send me dead flowers every morning / Send me dead flowers by the mail / Send me dead flowers to my wedding / And I won’t forget to put roses on your grave.” Again, the Stones are not afraid to dwell on the darker side. “Well when you’re sitting back in your rose pink Cadillac / Making bets on Kentucky Derby Day / Ah, I’ll be in my basement room with a needle and a spoon / And another girl to take my pain away.” So this, too, is about addictions. The last chorus has some interesting variations: “Take me down little Susie, take me down / I know you think you’re the queen of the underground / And you can send me dead flowers every morning / Send me dead flowers by the U.S. Mail / Say it with dead flowers in my wedding / And I won’t forget to put roses on your grave / No, I won’t forget to put roses on your grave.” With such great guitarists around, the little bit of lead guitar is a welcome sound here.

Jagger’s acoustic guitar opens the closing track, Moonlight Mile. It is an atmospheric creation which features Jim Price on piano, and no Keith Richards. Remember the moody, menacing tone of the lyrics? “When the wind blows and the rain feels cold / With a head full of snow / With a head full of snow / In the window there’s a face you know / Don’t the nights pass slow / Don’t the nights pass slow.” So this too is about the effects of drugs. But isn’t it amazing how the lyrics alone can bring the melody alive. “The sound of strangers sending nothing to my mind / Just another mad mad day on the road / I am just living to be dying by your side / But I’m just about a moonlight mile on down the road.” This is a truly desolate road he’s walking. “Made a rag pile of my shiny clothes / Gonna warm my bones / Gonna warm my bones / I got silence on my radio / Let the air waves flow / Let the air waves flow.” It is one of those songs where one doesn’t really hear the lyrics. You’re too taken with the overall musicality of the thing. And this is reinforced by a fine string arrangement by Paul Buckmaster. “Oh I’m sleeping under strange strange skies / Just another mad mad day on the road / My dreams is fading down the railway line / I’m just about a moonlight mile down the road.” I was reminded, in a sense, of Elton John's Madman Across The Water, which has a similar feel to it, particularly as the strings kick in near the end. “I’m pining sister and I’m dreaming / I’m riding down your moonlight mile / I’m pining baby and I’m dreaming / I’m riding down your moonlight mile / I’m riding down you moonlight mile.” Jagger’s lyrics just flow here, as he seems to ad lib. “Let it go now, come on up babe / Yeah, let it go now / Yeah, flow now baby / Yeah move on now yeah … Yeah, I’m coming home / ’Cause, I’m just about a moonlight mile on down the road / Down the road, down the road.”

And thus ends one of the great Stones albums. Just reading a bit on Wikipedia, I see Sister Morphine was originally a Marianne Faithfull song about “her own ambiguous relationship with heroin”. As mentioned earlier, the album reached No 1 in both the US and UK, while Brown Sugar and Wild Horses both did well on the singles charts in the US, with the former reaching No 1 in 1971.

Exile on Main St

And so to an album that was a key part of my high school education, but which I haven’t heard in about 30 years. Exile on Main St. was released on May 12, 1972. It is a double album running to 67:17 minutes. Again, Jimmy Miller was the producer. Wikipedia says it draws on rock & roll, blues, country and soul. While “initially greeted with lukewarm reviews”, it is now “widely considered the band’s finest work and one of the defining masterpieces of the rock era”. Indeed, in 2003 it was ranked No 7 on that Rolling Stone magazine (no relation) list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. And it was/is truly great. I remember spending many a happy hour soaking up those vinyl sounds when I should have been studying.

Wikipedia says some of the songs were written back in 1968 – but were held back to avoid Allen Klein getting hold of them. Most of the album was recorded between 1969 and 1971 at Olympic Studios and Jagger’s Stargroves country house in England during the Sticky Fingers sessions, says Wikipedia. But by the spring of 1971 the band decided to escape Britain’s massive tax burden. They had until April 5 to quit or “have their assets seized”. They chose to settle in France at Villefranche-sur-Mer, near Nice, “where … Richards had rented Nellcôte, the ‘Gestapo headquarters during the Second World War’, according to Richards, complete with swastikas on the floor vents”. Exiled in France, work on Exile on Main Street continued. With Richards having begun “a daily habit of taking heroin”, Wikipedia says “thousands of dollars of heroin flowed through the mansion each week”. Often Richards did not attend recording sessions, but on one occasion when he was in fact early, he put down the basics of the song, Happy. Bassist Wyman, says Wikipedia, was not happy with the French set-up and only appears on eight of the tracks. Taylor, Richards and upright bassist Bill Plummer did the other bass parts. Wyman is quoted as saying that there was “a clear dichotomy” between those who freely used drugs (Richards, Miller, Keys, Taylor and engineer Andy Johns) and those who more or less abstained (Wyman, Watts and Jagger).

Most of the basic tracks were completed at Sunset Sound Recorders in Lost Angeles from December 1971 till May 1972. And, says Wikipedia, it was Jagger who ensured that keyboardists Billy Preston and Dr John, as well as top city session backup vocalists, added layers of texture. “The final gospel-influenced arrangements of Tumbling Dice, Loving Cup, Let It Loose and Shine A Light were inspired by Jagger and Preston’s visit to a local evangelical church.”

Jagger married Bianca Jagger while making the album, followed by the birth of their only child, Jade in October 1971. Richard and girlfriend Anita Pallenberg were in the “throes of heroin addiction”, says Wikipedia, which Richards would only overcome at the end of the decade. And, as Jagger started looking at other musical genres, the band would move away from the “thoroughly roots-based sound of Exile on Main St”, says Wikipedia.

Never short of marketing nous, the band preceded release of the album with the Top 10 hit single, Tumbling Dice. The album reached No 1 around the globe as the Stones embarked on “their famed 1972 American tour”, their first in three years. Richards’s Happy was a Top 30 hit single that summer. At the time Jagger was quoted as saying the album was “very rock & roll” and that he was “very bored with rock & roll” and felt the need to “explore everywhere … You’ve got to explore the sky too”. In 2003 he said he thought the album had “some of the worst mixes I’ve ever heard. I’d love to remix the record”. He blamed the quality on the “drunks and junkies”, including Jimmy Miller. Wikipedia quotes Richards as saying that at the time the Stones “really felt like exiles”. He said the Stones were no longer interested in No 1 singles. All he wanted to do was “good shit – if it’s good they’ll get it some time down the road”. And that has proven to be the case.

But, as noted earlier, I haven’t heard this in decades. So I have to rely on the lyrics to jolt the old memory. And even when the tune doesn’t spring instantly to mind, it is instructive to read lyrics which are often decidedly raunchy, given the Stones’ predilection for a bit of sex. Here’s the opening track, Rocks Off. “I hear you talking when I’m on the street, / Your mouth don’t move but I can hear you speak. / What’s the matter with the boy? / He don’t come around no more, / Is he checking out for sure? / Is he gonna close the door on me?” Then this suggestive verse. “I’m always hearing voices on the street, / I want to shout, but I can’t hardly speak. / I was making love last night / To a dancer friend of mine. / I can’t seem to stay in step, / ’Cause she come ev’ry time that she pirouettes over me.” And then the chorus. “And I only get my rocks off while I’m dreaming, / I only get my rocks off while I’m sleeping." There is a desperation about the next verse. “I’m zipping through the days at lightning speed. / Plug in, flush out and fire the fuckin’ feed. / Heading for the overload, / Splattered on the dirty road, / Kick me like you’ve kicked before, / I can’t even feel the pain no more…” After the chorus, the final verse. “Feel so hypnotized, can’t describe the scene. / It’s all mesmerised all that inside me. / The sunshine bores the daylights out of me. / Chasing shadows moonlight mystery. / Headed for the overload, / Splattered on the dirty road, / Kick me like you’ve kicked before, / I can’t even feel the pain no more.”

I’d so dig to hear these songs again. Take Rip That Joint, which is an incredibly American song that eulogises the place a bit like Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land. “Mama says yes, Papa says no, / Make up you mind ’cause I gotta go. / I’m gonna raise hell at the Union Hall, / Drive myself right over the wall.” Of course it is primarily about dope, as the chorus insists. “Rip this joint, gonna save your soul, / Round and round and round we go. / Roll this joint, gonna get down low, / Start my starter, gonna stop the show. / Oh, yeah!” The exiled Stones are now knocking on the door of the US. “Mister President, Mister Immigration Man, / Let me in, sweetie, to your fair land. / I’m Tampa bound and Memphis too, / Short Fat Fanny is on the loose. / Dig that sound on the radio, / Then slip it right across into Buffalo. / Dick and Pat in ole D.C., / Well they’re gonna hold some shit for me." Dick was US president Richard Nixon (and Pat his wife) who, we’re told, would be their supplier. “Ying yang, you’re my thing, / Oh, now, baby, won’t you hear me sing. / Flip Flop, fit to drop, / Come on baby, won’t you let it rock?” Then the US eulogy continues. “Oh, yeah! Oh, yeah! / From San Jose down to Santa Fe, / Kiss me quick, baby, won’tcha make my day. / Down to New Orleans with the Dixie Dean, / ’Cross to Dallas, Texas with the Butter Queen.” After the chorus, the final tribute. “Wham, bham, Birmingham, Alabam’ don’t give a damn. / Little Rock fit to drop. / Ah, let it rock.” Very clever songwriting.

Next up is Slim Harop’s Shake Your Hips, then Casino Boogie, both of which I’ll skip here because I have very little memory of them. The closing track is the hit, Tumbling Dice. “Wo Yeah! (Wo, wo)” goes the introduction, before the lyrics get down to business, with Jagger no doubt at his finest. “Women think I’m tasty, but they’re always tryin’ to waste me / And make me burn the candle right down, / But baby, baby, I don’t need no jewels in my crown.” There’s more than a hint of misogyny here. “ ’Cause all you women is low down gamblers, / Cheatin’ like I don’t know how, / But baby, baby, there’s fever in the funk house now. / This low down bitchin’ got my poor feet a itchin’, / Don’t you know you know the duece is still wild.” All I ever heard on this song was the phrase “call me the tumblin’ dice”, so it is interesting to note its context. “Baby, I can’t stay, you got to roll me / And call me the tumblin’ dice.” I enjoy their tampering with the idiom, to be at sixes and sevens, in the next verse. “Always in a hurry, I never stop to worry, / Don’t you see the time flashin’ by. / Honey, got no money, / I’m all sixes and sevens and nines. / Say now baby, I’m the rank outsider, / You can be my partner in crime.” And so on. Again, give me the music and I’d be far more enthusiastic…

Side 2 starts with another of those country-inspired songs which are among the Stones’ best, Sweet Virginia. “Wadin’ through the waste stormy winter, / And there’s not a friend to help you through. / Tryin’ to stop the waves behind your eyeballs, / Drop your reds, drop your greens and blues.” The drug references continue, and the oxymoron too. “Thank you for your wine, California, / Thank you for your sweet and bitter fruits. / Yes I got the desert in my toenail / And I hid the speed inside my shoe.” Then that famous chorus, with its scatological last line. “But come on, come on down Sweet Virginia, / Come on, honey child, I beg of you. / Come on, come on down, you got it in ya. / Got to scrape the shit right off you shoes.” How I’d love to hear that whirring acoustic guitar and Jagger’s incredible vocals on this one, but I’ll have to wait till my ship docks.”

I don’t recall, off hand, Torn And Frayed, but Sweet Black Angel rings a steady bell. And looking quickly at the lyrics, I’m not sure if that’s perhaps a slave bell. Indeed, I’m not sure if this wasn’t designed to freak out the far left or far right. It was, however, one of the all-time Stones classics with, if I recall correctly, that acoustic guitar again playing a key role. “Got a sweet black angel, / Got a pin up girl, / Got a sweet black angel, / Up upon my wall./ Well, she ain’t no singer / And she aint no star, / But she sure talk good, / And she move so fast./ But the gal in danger, / Yeah, de gal in chains, / But she keep on pushin’, / Would ya take her place? / She countin’ up de minutes, / She countin’ up de days, / She’s a sweet black angel, woh, / Not a sweet black slave. / Ten little niggers / Sittin’ on de wall, / Her brothers been a fallin’, / Fallin’ one by one. / For a judges murder / In a judges court, / Now de judge he gonna judge her / For all dat he’s worth. / Well de gal in danger, / De gal in chains, / But she keep on pushin’ / Would you do the same? / She countin’ up de minutes, / She countin’ up de days, / She’s a sweet black angel, / Not a gun toting teacher, / Not a Red lovin’ school mom, / Ain’t someone gonna free her, / Free de sweet black slave, / Free de sweet black slave.” Phew! seen like that, shorn of its disguising musical accoutrements, this is one heady piece of songwriting.

The final track on Side 2, Loving Cup, doesn’t spring instantly to mind, and neighter does Richards’s Happy, mentioned earlier. And what of Turd On The Run? Well I had to explore the lyrics to this one. “Grabbed hold of your coat tail but it come off in my hand, / I reached for your lapel but it weren’t sewn on so grand. / Begged, promised anything if only you would stay, / Well, I lost a lot of love over you. / Fell down to my knees and I hung onto your pants, / But you just kept on runnin’ while they ripped off in my hands. / Di’mond rings, vaseline, you give me disease, / Well, I lost a lot of love over you. / I boogied in the ballroom, I boogied in the dark; / Tie you hands, tie you feet, throw you to the sharks. / Make you sweat, make you scream, make you wish you’d never been, / I lost a lot of love over you.” As I suspected, the title is a pretty gratuitous bit of muck. Still, love to hear this one again. So too the next tracks, Ventilator Blues, I Just Want To See His Face and Let It Loose.

Side 4 starts with All Down The Line, followed by Robert Johnson’s Stop Breaking Down. I should recall Shine A Light, which sounds most familiar. “Saw you stretched out in Room Ten O Nine / With a smile on your face and a tear right in your eye. / Oh, couldn’t see to get a line on you, my sweet honey love. / Berber jew’lry jangling down the street, / Make you shut your eyes at ev’ry woman that you meet. / Could not seem to get a high on you, my sweet honey love. / May the good Lord shine a light on you, / Make every song (you sing) your favorite tune. / May the good Lord shine a light on you, / Warm like the evening sun.” Is this one of those gospel-inspired tracks mentioned earlier. It certain has that feeling. “When you’re drunk in the alley, baby, with your clothes all torn / And your late night friends leave you in the cold gray dawn. / Just seemed too many flies on you, I just can’t brush them off. / Angels beating all their wings in time, / With smiles on their faces and a gleam right in their eyes. / Whoa, thought I heard one sigh for you, / Come on up, come on up, now, come on up now. / May the good Lord shine a light on you, / Make every song you sing your favorite tune. / May the good Lord shine a light on you, / Warm like the evening sun.” So finally, it seems, Jagger and Co are looking for a little redemption. This brilliant album, which one day I'll hear again, God willing, ends with Soul Survivor. As noted earlier, it reached No 1 in both the US and UK in 1972, with the single Tumbling Dice reaching No 5 in the UK and No 7 in the US, and Happy making it to No 22 in the US.

Goats Head Soup

In this part of the country, it is not uncommon for people to eat what they call a Smiley, which is a barbequed (or braaied) sheep’s head. So, while one’s initial reaction to the name of the Stones’ next album, Goats Head Soup, may be one of revulsion, I suppose in the context of globally diverse cultures, such a thing is not that extraordinary. For all we know, it may be a delicacy in some remote parts of the US.

Anyway, this album was released on August 31, 1973, when I was in my second last year of high school. It had been recorded between November 25 and December 21, 1972, in Kingston, Jamaica, which, as we were all to soon discover, would became famous as the epicenter of the reggae revolution led by one Bob Marley. Once again, Jimmy Miller did production duties. Wikipedia says it was a “more polished production than the raw and ragged Exile on Main St” and that it “reflected the resurgence of soul-pop and the rise of funk, while maintaining the Stones’ distinctive rock sound”. And, of course, it became famous for the single, Angie, which reached No 1 in both the US and UK, and even made something of an impact in South Africa at the time.

Wikipedia notes that it was decided to move to Kingston because, as Richards said in 2002, “Jamaica was one of the few places that would let us all in!”. He said he had been kicked out of nine countries, as he dealt with a recent drug arrest. Rolling Stones Records president Marshall Chess is quoted, also from 2002, about the recording process, which is quite interesting. He said the group would book studios for a month, 24 hours a day, “so the band could keep the same set-up and develop their songs in their free-form way, starting with a few lyrics and rhythms, jamming and rehearsing while we fixed the sound”. He said even after a break of say six months, it would take the guys about an hour of jamming together before “the synergy that is their strength would come into play and they would lock it together as one …”

Jagger is quoted as saying the fact that the album was made in a few weeks meant it had the “feel of one particular period of time”. Richards is quoted as saying how much he enjoyed the multi-ethnic experience of working in Jamaica.

The more I listen to the Stones, the more I realise that a kind of blandness, a sameness, starts to permeate their music. Certainly each song is original and distinctive, but in the end it is only the really “different” tracks, like Angie, that stand out. Which is not to suggest that these aren’t cracking good rock/blues tracks. They are, and will long be appreciated as such. Indeed, the chorus on each song remains familiar, while the lyrics are as ever not nearly as easily deciphered. I gave Goat’s Head Soup a fresh spin, and found myself almost dragged down by its morbidity. Or maybe it’s just me. It opens with Dancing With Mr D which, Wikipedia tells us, is “D as in Death”. Great. The opening guitar riff is as distinctive as any on a Stones song. There is some great bass and Jagger’s vocals are as powerful as ever. Indeed, throughout this album, he maintains a fairly subdued presence, especially on the heavier tracks, but seems to come alive in the choruses. And also, with so much instrumentation, I noticed that Mick Taylor rarely gets a chance to really shine as a lead guitarist – after having had such a superb time with John Mayall. So how did Dancing With Mr D go? Well I was instantly taken back to 1973, or thereabouts, by the chorus. But I suspect the story we’re about to hear is not pretty. “Down in the graveyard where we have our tryst / The air smells sweet, the air smells sick / He never smiles, his mouth merely twists / The breath in my lungs feels clinging and thick / But I know his name, he’s called Mr D. / And one of these days he’s gonna set you free / Human skulls is hangin’ right ’round his neck / The palms of my hands is clammy and wet.” As I said, a trifle maudlin. Anyway, the chorus gets somewhat chanty: “Lord, I was dancin’, dancin’, dancin’ so free / Dancin’, dancin’, dancin’ so free / Dancin’, Lord, keep your hand off me / Dancin’ with Mr D, with Mr D, with Mr D” And so he dwells on how death will come. “Will it be poison put in my glass / Will it be slow or will it be fast? / The bite of a snake, the sting of a spider / A drink of Belladonna on a Toussaint night / Hiding in a corner in New York City / Lookin’ down a fourty-four in West Virginia.” And thence to that chorus again, before the final, spine-chilling verse. “One night I was dancin’ with a lady in black / Wearin’ black silk gloves and a black silk hat / She looked at me longin’ with black velvet eyes / She gazed at me strange all cunning and wise / Then I saw the flesh just fall off her bones / The eyes in her skull was burning like coals / Lord, have mercy, fire and brimstone / I was dancin’ with Mrs D” So it was Mrs D who finally took him to a place where he could “dance so free”. Luckily I never heard these lyrics in my youth, or I might well have taken them seriously.

Look, the Stones did have a knack for writing catchy melodies, and that is the case with 100 Years Ago, the next track, about which Wikipedia seems to offer no enlightenment. It features Billy Preston on a thing called a clavinet, a kind of keyboard which sounds like a piano. It is slow, quiet and gentle, for the Stones, that is. Jagger’s vocals are, again, out of the top drawer. “Went out walkin’ through the wood the other day / And the world was a carpet laid before me / The buds were bursting and the air smelled sweet and strange / And it seemed about a hundred years ago.” Great finally to see that this is indeed a sweet melody, quite the reverse of the preceding track. “Mary and I, we would sit upon a gate / Just gazin’ at some dragon in the sky / What tender days, we had no secrets hid away / Well, it seemed about a hundred years ago.” Can it last? There is a change of mood and key, with the infusion of some wah-wah lead guitar, as the next verse starts. “Now all my friends are wearing worried smiles / Living out a dream of what they was / Don’t you think it’s sometimes wise not to grow up?” There is a good jam about here, as the chorus, slightly altered, returns. “Went out walkin’ through the wood the other day / Can’t you see the furrows in my forehead? / What tender days, we had no secrets hid away / Now it seems about a hundred years ago.” Older, and not so much wiser, things seem to be falling apart. “Now if you see me drinkin’ bad red wine / Don’t worry ’bout this man that you love / Don’t you think it’s sometimes wise not to grow up?” As with so many Stones songs, this one starts to ramble, and Jagger seems to ad-lib, or add-lip, to the end. “You’re gonna kiss and say good-bye, yeah, I warn you / You’re gonna kiss and say good-bye, yeah, I warn you / You’re gonna kiss and say good-bye, oh Lord, I warn you / And please excuse me while I hide away.” There is an uneasy air of sadness and regret as this song winds down. “Call me lazy bones / Ain’t got no time to waste away / Lazy bones ain’t got no time to waste away / Don’t you think it’s just about time to hide away? Yeah, yeah!”

And then to the somewhat repetitious Coming Down Again, which should never have been allowed to run to 5:55 minutes, because it seems to lose impetus three quarters of the way through. Which doesn’t mean it is not a great song with a typically infectious melody. Nicky Hopkins’s piano is slow and quiet, with gentle bass and drums accompanying it, before a sudden thump wakes Jagger (or is it Richards up) and the singing begins. “Coming down again, coming down again / Coming down again, coming down again.” This phrase is repeated ad infinitum on this track and for me, it loses something in the process. But initially it’s great, with a wah-wah lead guitar injecting a slow, bluesy quality. “Share your thoughts, there’s nothing you can hide / She was dying to survive / I was caught, oh, taken for a ride / She was showing no surprise.” The chorus varies. “Coming down again, coming down again / Where are all my friends, coming down again.” Then there is a rather raunchy image. “Slipped my tongue in someone else’s pie / Tasting better ev’ry time / She turned green and tried to make me cry / Being hungry it ain’t no crime.” The vocals sound more like Richards than Jagger, and have a quiet, Grateful Dead quality. There is a fine sax solo near the end, and the piano is superb, but again I believe it drags on a bit. “Coming down again, coming down again / All my time’s been spent, coming down again.”

I see the innocuously titled Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker), the chorus of which I’d always known, but not what they were singing, is in fact “a rare political song criticizing the New York police for the accidental shooting of a 10-year-old who they claimed they had mistaken for a bank robber”, according to Wikipedia. It opens boldly with a fuzzy rhythm guitar and bass. A fast-paced rock song, Jagger lays on the lyrics, again almost lackadaisically. “The police in New York City / They chased a boy right through the park / And in a case of mistaken identity / They put a bullet through his heart.” I confess. I never heard those lines before, nor the chorus, although I “heard” it often. “Heart breakers with your forty four / I wanna tear your world apart / You heart breaker with your forty four / I wanna tear your world apart.” Some searing saxophone by Bobby Keys adds timbre. This is an angry Stones song, almost like an angry Dylan song, except that Dylan made sure you heard every word. “A ten-year old girl on a street corner / Sticking needles in her arm / She died in the dirt of an alleyway / Her mother said she had no chance, no chance!” This is probably one of the great verses attacking drug addiction. “Heart breaker, heart breaker / She stuck the pins right in her heart / Heart breaker, pain maker / Stole the love right out of your heart.” Then another variation. “Heart breaker, heart breaker / You stole the love right out of my heart / Heart breaker, heart breaker / I wanna tear your world apart.” And so what of that title, Doo Doo, etc? Well it comes in as a backing vocal midway through the song and again at the end, “Doo, doo doo doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo....” And it’s quite beautiful, in a poignant, sad, sort of way.

But it was Angie which all of us growing up at the time remember best from this album. And with David Bowie having surged into the reckoning in the early 1970s, we were also aware of this connection. Did Jagger steal his girlfriend? Firstly, Wikipedia tells us Atlantic Records wanted “another Brown Sugar”, not a ballad, as the next Stones single. But, obviously they did not realise just what a success this would be. And, Wikipedia adds, “contrary to popular belief, the song was not about Bowie’s first wife, Angela, but Richards’s lover, Anita Pallenberg”. It adds that years later, Richards’s daughter with Pallenberg, Dandelion (of all names) would rename herself Angela after the song. I suspect I have a niece named after this song… Anyway, what made the song so good was its arrangement. Thought went into the placement of each and every instrument, indeed every note. It starts with typically beautiful strummed and plucked acoustic guitar. As Hopkins’s piano tinkles a few notes, Jagger fires away that opening verse: “Angie, Angie, when will those clouds all disappear? / Angie, Angie, where will it lead us from here? / With no loving in our souls and no money in our coats / You can’t say we’re satisfied.” Again, this is a first for me, having never ever really paid attention to these lyrics. I love the little acoustic riffs after the first mention of Angie, in each verse. “But Angie, Angie, you can’t say we never tried / Angie, you’re beautiful, but ain’t it time we said good-bye? / Angie, I still love you, remember all those nights we cried? / All the dreams we held so close seemed to all go up in smoke / Let me whisper in your ear: / Angie, Angie, where will it lead us from here?” It is about here that Nicky Harrison’s strings kick in, giving the song added gravitas, even if they do instantly provide a more commercial flavour. “Oh, Angie, don’t you weep, all your kisses still taste sweet / I hate that sadness in your eyes / But Angie, Angie, ain’t it time we said good-bye? / With no loving in our souls and no money in our coats / You can’t say we’re satisfied / But Angie, I still love you, baby / Ev’rywhere I look I see your eyes / There ain’t a woman that comes close to you / Come on Baby, dry your eyes / But Angie, Angie, ain’t it good to be alive? / Angie, Angie, they can’t say we never tried.” And I wonder what Keith thought about it? He certainly wouldn’t have minded that it topped the US singles’ chart and reached No 5 in the UK.

Silver Train, the opening track on Side 2, if you’ll pardon the pun, is one of those songs I spoke of, which, while great, are not really memorable. It is a laid-back, solid rock number with some excellent piano, bass, harmonica and even a good lead guitar solo. As usual Jagger is in his element, belting out the bluesy rock sounds he does so well. It is great blues rock, with a lavish quantity of repetition. “Silver train is a comin’ / Think I’m gonna get on now, oh, yeah / Silver train is a comin’ / Think I wanna get on now, oh, yeah, oh, yeah.” Then from train to rain. “Silver rain is a fallin’ / Fallin’ up around my house, oh, yeah / Silver rain is a fallin’, fallin’ up around my house, oh, yeah, oh, yeah.” And then the chorus, which I can’t even remember, despite listening to it just an hour or so ago. “And I did not know her name / And I did not know here name / But I sure love the way that she laughed and took my money / And I did not know here name / And I did not know her name / But I sure loved the way that she laughed and called me Honey.” It certainly isn’t memorable songwriting, but the song is actually great – laid back and unobtrusive. It takes on a Dylanesque quality. “I’m going home on a south bound train with a song in my mouth / I’m going home on a south bound train with a song in my mouth.” Also in his mouth was a blues harp, which Jagger plays superbly on this track.

The next track, Hide Your Love, is equally good, and equally forgettable, in the best sense of the word. Jagger plays piano and some stentorian drum beats introduce the vocals on another slow bluesy, funky song. Again, the singing is somewhat muted. “Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down / Sometimes I’m fallin’ on the ground / How do you hide, how do you hide your love?” And so it continues, with Jagger dominating again, offering very little space for the likes of Mick Taylor to really shine.

Winter is another song which seems to lead nowhere in particular, yet that is also its beauty. A slow, quiet electric piano, played by Nicky Hopkins, is joined by a muted guitar on a slow, bluesy number. “And it’s sure been a cold, cold winter / And the wind ain’t been blowin’ from the south / It’s sure been a cold, cold winter / And the light of love is all burned out.” There is a burnt out, run-down quality here, but also a valiant bid to lift oneself up and make a new start. “It sure been a hard, hard winter / My feet been draggin’ ’cross the ground / And I hope it’s gonna be a long, hot summer / And the light of love will be burnin’ bright.” I’m not sure what is meant by the next verse. “And I wish I’d been out in California / When the lights on all the Christmas trees went out / But I been burnin’ my bell, book and candle / And the restoration plays have all gone ’round.” As the verses and chorus are repeated and reshaped, he then specifies that he wished he’d been “out in Stony Canyon” when the lights went out. Later on he admits: “Sometimes I think about you, baby / Sometimes I cry about you / Lord well well well.” And he wants her back most ardently – if only sometimes. “Sometimes I wanna wrap my coat around you / Sometimes I wanna keep you warm / Sometimes I wanna wrap my coat around you / Sometimes I wanna burn a candle for you.” A feature of this track is the strings which, again like Elton John’s Madman Across The Water, build and shape the song to some sort of a conclusion.

The penultimate track, Can You Hear The Music, is clear-cut commercial stuff. It is a dance song, but has several subtleties which are interesting. Are those bells that chime at the start, and is that a pennywhistle? Anyway, the electric guitar then comes through bold and distorted, alongside superb piano. Heavy bass and drums kickstart that catchy chorus line. “Can you hear the music, can you hear the music? / Can you feel the magic hangin’ in the air? / Can you feel the magic? Oh, yeah.” Jagger attempts to make sense of life, but then gives up. “Love is a mystery I can’t demystify, oh, no / And sometimes I wonder why we’re here / But I don’t care, I don’t care.” After the relief of the chorus, more introspection. “Love is a mystery I can’t demystify, oh, no / Sometimes I I’m dancin’ on air / But I get scared, I get scared.” A fine wah-wah lead guitar riff kicks in about now. “When I hear the drummer, get me in the groove / When I hear the guitar, makes me wanna move / Can you feel the magic, floatin’ in the air? / Can you feel the magic? Oh, yeah.” The next lines read: “Sometimes you’re feelin’ you’ve been pushed around / And your rainbow just ain’t here / Don’t you fear, don’t you fear.” And so music is the escape. “When you hear the music trouble disappears / When you hear the music ringin’ in your ears / Can you feel the magic floatin’ in the air? / Can you hear the magic? Oh, yeah, yeah.” After another of those extended endings, that opening bell and pennywhistle sound – if indeed that’s what they are – plays out till the end.

And finally. Was it “fighter” or “fucker”. We were all desperate to know what was being song in the chorus of the final track, Star Star, which Wikipedia calls “the band’s infamous tribute to groupies”. And yes, fucker it was. It jumps out at you after the briefest of glances at the lyrics. A thin, electric rhythm guitar launches an old-style rock & roll sound. “Baby, baby, I’ve been so sad since you’ve been gone / way back to New York City / where you do belong / Honey, I missed your two tongue kisses, / legs wrapped around me tight / If I ever get back to Fun City, girl, / I’m gonna make you scream all night.” It was what well all, us testosterone-charged teenagers, believed the rock revolution was all about. All that sex, man. Groupies just desperate for you. Jagger’s vocals are strangely muted, as if all this happens in a dream. “Honey, honey, call me on the telephone, / I know you’re movin’ out to Hollywood / with your can of tasty foam / All those beat up friends of mine / got to get you in their books / And lead guitars and movie stars / get their tongue beneath your hood. Yeah!” And then that legendary chorus: “You’re a star fucker, star fucker, star fucker, star fucker, star / yeah, a star fucker, star fucker, star fucker, star fucker, star, / a star fucker, star fucker, star fucker, / star fucker star. Yeah, I heard about you.” The reason there was confusion about the f-word is that each time it is sung, a big bass drum resounds, drowning it out. They lay the images on. “Polaroids, / now that’s what I call obscene, / your tricks with fruit was kind a cute, / I bet you keep your pussy clean. / Honey, I miss your two tone kisses, / legs wrapped around me tight. / If I ever get back to New York, girl, / gonna make you scream all night.Yeah!” After that chorus, the following. “Yeah, Ali McGraw got mad with you / for givin’ head to Steve McQueen, / yeah, you and me we made a pretty pair, / ballin’ through the Silver Screen. / Honey, I’m open to anything / I don’t know where to draw the line. / Yeah, I’m makin’ bets that you don’t get / (your man) before he dies.” Then there is a curious preface of “(John Wayne) Yeah!” before the final chorus, which is just as fucker-fangled as the others. Phew! Again, just as well I didn’t pick up on those lyrics at the time. I was corrupted enough already, man.

This was, notes Wikipedia, the last Stones album produced by Jimmy Miller, a picture of whom is featured, along with Nicky Hopkins, Ian Stewart, bobby Keys, Billy Preston, Andy Johns and Jim Horn, on the inside sleeve of the cover. Miller, who had long dark hair, a moustache and shades, had been with the band since Beggars Banquet in 1968 – arguably their best years. He developed “a debilitating drug habit” during this time, says Wikipedia. With the album reaching No 1, the Stones toured Europe in the autumn of 1973. But was Goat’s Head Soup good? While Bud Scoppa of Rolling Stone called it a “rich musical experience”, Wikipedia quotes Creem’s Lester Bangs as saying that there is “a sadness about the Stones now”. I think that is what I detected too. Wikipedia says the album is “now generally considered to have marked the end of the Stones’ ‘golden age’”. Another critic wrote that they slid from “perhaps the greatest winning streak in rock history”, into decadence and rock star excess – and that that happened with this album.

And of course there was that bizarre cover, which features photographs of all five – Jagger on the front, Richards on the back and the other three inside the gatefold sleeve – all almost life size. And their heads are shrouded in a kind of transparent gauze. It was designed and photographed by David Bailey, an old friend of Jagger’s.

Having looked briefly at the Stones’s later career, I think this is an appropriate time to leave them. Because, it was only on the odd occasion after this album, and songs like Angie and Star Star, that we really encountered the group which was such a major force in the 1960s and early 1970s.

No comments:

Hit counter